October 12, 2018 12:02
Controversy over Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha's gaffe in the National Assembly on Wednesday that "a review is underway" of unilateral South Korean sanctions against North Korea is essentially academic.
The sanctions were implemented by the Lee Myung-bak administration after the North sank the Navy corvette Cheonan in 2010.
In principle, the South could ease them unilaterally if the North formally apologizes for the attack, but experts say this would be realistically impossible since Seoul is still obliged to abide by UN Security Council sanctions that cover much the same ground.
Resuming inter-Korean trade and investment in the North would be banned under the UN sanctions, so a unilateral move by the South would not lead to any concrete changes without U.S. approval.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk on Thursday admitted, "There are areas that overlap with UN Security Council sanctions, while there are similar sanctions imposed on North Korea by other countries, so it is our view that a unilateral easing of sanctions would be difficult to consider."
Kang's remarks in the National Assembly rattled U.S. President Donald Trump, who exposed a glaring rift in the alliance by saying, "Well, they won't do it without our approval. They do nothing without our approval."
The government here immediately went into crisis management mode and said there was no move afoot to lift the sanctions at this time. But by then the damage was done, and Seoul can expect closer scrutiny in the future whether it is abiding by international sanctions.
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