June 13, 2018 12:26
The historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has raised fears that international sanctions against the regime will weaken immediately, leaving the international community with no leverage should the North fail to denuclearize.
"In the meantime, the sanctions will remain in effect," Trump promised in a press conference after the summit. "The sanctions will come off when we're sure that the nukes are no longer a factor."
But in reality atmosphere is everything, and Trump is likely to slip rewards to North Korea for helping him portray himself as a global peacemaker. The first bullet point of the agreement, to establish "new" bilateral relations, will make that almost inevitable.
Already after receiving a letter from Kim on June 1, Trump said he no longer wants to use the term "maximum pressure."
"Now I had 300 sanctions that I was getting ready to put on last week. And I said, you know, I can't really put on sanctions when I'm meeting with -- I thought it would be very disrespectful," Trump said at the press conference. "At a certain point, I actually look forward to taking them off."
An additional complication is that North Korea only really depends on China, which accounts for 90 percent of its trade, to loosen sanctions and it is in the clear. Beijing immediately responded to the summit by mentioning the possibility of easing sanctions on the North.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in a daily press briefing, "The UN Security Council resolutions that have been passed say that if North Korea respects and acts in accordance with the resolutions, then sanction measures can be adjusted, including to pause or remove the relevant sanctions."
China has already started to loosen sanctions by tipping a nod and a wink to customs officials, and North Korean laborers are reportedly streaming across the border again while coal exports have resumed and gasoline prices have stabilized in the North.
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