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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 3)

All Headlines 07:29 July 03, 2018

No sanctions relief
Skepticism grows over North Korea's denuclearization

Three weeks have passed since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held their historic June 12 summit in Singapore. Yet, neither side has made much progress in dismantling the North's nuclear program although Kim committed to "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

Against this backdrop, skepticism is growing further that Trump has played into the hands of Kim, who apparently wants to extract more concessions from the U.S. Kim has repeatedly reiterated his position that the North prefers "phased and reciprocal" denuclearization so it can get rewards for every step it takes.

Right after the summit of the century, Trump came under harsh criticism that he gave too much to Kim but got little in return. He failed to persuade Kim to accept the U.S. demand for "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization" (CVID). However, he suspended joint military exercises with South Korea in an apparent move to appease Pyongyang.

The North demolished a nuclear test site in Punggye-ri before the summit to show its genuine intention of denuclearization. But the demolition was long on symbolism, short on substance. It also agreed to repatriate the remains of American soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War.

However judging from what the North has done so far, the Kim regime is giving off the impression it is more interested in a nuclear freeze than denuclearization. In a word, Pyongyang may adopt delay tactics to weaken the united front of the international community against its development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

Kim appears to be bolder in calling for easing of international sanctions imposed on the North for its nuclear tests and missile launches. His efforts for sanctions relief have become more palpable since he made his third visit to China and held a summit with President Xi Jinping. He reportedly asked Xi to help soften the sanctions.

More worrisome were reports by the Japanese media last week that China and Russia tried to push for a press statement at the U.N. Security Council to stress the need to ease sanctions against the North. If the reports are true, Pyongyang must have been attempting to use China and Russia as leverage to weaken the international community's solidarity.

It is still too early to talk about sanctions relief for the North because the Kim regime has yet to take any substantive steps toward dismantling its nuclear arsenal. Seoul and Washington should step up their efforts to enforce the sanctions in cooperation with allies until the North makes a real breakthrough in scrapping its nukes and other weapons of mass destruction.

There are also concerns about reports that Pyongyang intends to secretly retain some of its nuclear stockpile and production facilities. Citing four U.S. officials, the Washington Post reported the North is trying to cheat the U.S. while increasing its nuclear weapons fuel production. The Trump administration should take appropriate action against the North if the reports are true.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is likely to visit Pyongyang sometime this week to hold follow-up talks with North Korean officials and call for a detailed roadmap for denuclearization. We hope Pompeo will deliver a strong and clear message to Kim so that he will implement his denuclearization pledge verifiably and irreversibly.
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