The South Korean government has no plans to lift its so-called “May 24” sanctions on North Korea, the country’s unification minister insisted on Thursday.
In comments made to lawmakers, Cho Myoung-gyon sought to clarify a statement by foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha yesterday, in which she appeared to suggest Seoul was planning to relax its unilateral sanctions against the North.
“No detailed review” into lifting the measures had been made, Cho told National Assembly members, in comments carried by the Yonhap News Agency.
He did, however, appear to leave the possibility for a relaxation in the future.
“Still, in seeking inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation and amid improving relations between the two Koreas, we have been taking measures in a flexible manner,” he said.
The May 24 measures were imposed by the South in 2010 in response to North Korea’s sinking of the ROK navy Cheonan corvette – an incident in which 46 South Korean sailors were killed.
Those sanctions imposed a range of restrictions on South Korean interactions with the North, and were recently described by DPRK media as an obstacle to “a new journey of inter-Korean relations.”
Foreign minister Kang prompted a storm of criticism from lawmakers on Wednesday when she appeared to suggest that Seoul was reviewing the possibility of lifting the sanctions.
“We are looking into it with relevant ministries,” Kang told Lee Hae-chan of the country’s ruling Democratic Party.
She later sought to clarify the comments, stressing that the government was not actively considering lifting the measures and would simply “review them continuously” as they represented a “significant administrative order.”
“I made the comment in the context that relevant ministries would always review it,” Kang said. “There is no discussion at the level of the entire government.”
But the comments were widely interpreted as representing an openness in Seoul to giving the North some sanctions relief.
Pyongyang has in recent weeks stepped up calls for international sanctions be relaxed – a message reiterated in a tripartite joint communiqué released by the China, the DPRK, and Russia on Wednesday.
In response to that joint statement, the U.S. State Department reiterated its position that any relief from sanctions would have to follow the North’s relinquishing of its nuclear program.
“President Trump has been very clear from the beginning that sanctions relief will follow denuclearization,” spokesperson Heather Nauert told a regular press briefing.
“And sooner we get to that point, the sooner the United States will think about lifting sanctions.”
Asked about Kang’s comments on Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said that South Korea would not relax sanctions “without our approval.”
“They do nothing without our approval,” Trump insisted.
Featured Image: Ministry of Unification
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