U.S. Experts Warn Seoul Against Slackening N.Korea Sanctions

  • By Kim Myong-song

    May 29, 2020 12:48

    U.S. experts on North Korea sanctions have expressed dire misgivings about the South Korean government's baffling attempts to cajole North Korea into some kind of cross-border business.

    Their tenor, according to a summary by Voice of America on Thursday, was remarkably similar -- namely that any attempts to engage the North in business are futile and will violate international sanctions.

    They also warned that the overtures could pose a very real legal risk for South Korean businesses, who could face punitive measures from the UN Security Council or America.

    William Newcomb, a former member of the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea, told VOA, "I view this as an issue for South Korean citizens to decide whether their government is acting correctly or foolishly to remove [2010 sanctions] without ever having obtained any sign of regret from North Korea over murdering those sailors" in the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan that sparked the sanctions.

    Joshua Stanton, a lawyer who participated in drafting a bill on U.S. sanctions on the North, pointed out that Seoul is already in dangerous waters. "We know that South Korea bought coal from North Korea in flagrant violation of the sanctions, after having been warned by the U.S. government that it was doing it. We know that the South Korean government allowed luxury vehicles to go through the port of Busan to North Korea."

    "So already, what this represents is legal risk for South Korean companies, and that risk is greater now and has longer-reach now, because of the Otto Warmbier Nuclear Sanctions Act that has just passed recently and further regulation so just been published by the Treasury Department," Stanton added.

    According to Michael O'Hanlon of the conservative Brookings Institution, however, the lifting of the 2010 sanctions was token politics. "Softening them can be OK if linked to a broader strategy. If however it's just a tactic to break the ice, it smacks of desperation -- and even a bit of disrespect for the memories of the 46 [sailors], perhaps."

    President Moon Jae-in "needs to be careful," he added. "And he needs to explain what he's doing clearly."

    The U.S. State Department earlier this week reiterated that any inter-Korean cooperation must proceed "in lockstep with" progress in North Korea's denuclearization. North Korea has at any rate responded to all overtures with deafening silence.

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