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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 22)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 07:12 October 22, 2018

Be aware of skepticism
European leaders rebuff Moon's push for sanctions relief

President Moon Jae-in wrapped up his nine-day visit to five European countries Saturday. He focused on garnering support from European leaders for inter-Korean detente and the denuclearization of North Korea.

It can be said that Moon has produced some successful results from his summitry with leaders of major European countries such as France, Britain and Germany. First of all, the leaders recognized Moon's efforts to improve inter-Korean ties and broker denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

But it is an open question whether President Moon was successful in pitching his push for sanctions relief for North Korea. He asked European leaders to back his idea of easing the U.N.-led sanctions in a bid to speed up the North's dismantling of its nuclear arsenal.

Of course, his idea is not without conditions. Moon stressed the need for the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) to consider easing its sanctions against Pyongyang when and if the North's denuclearization process reaches the point of no return. He wants to provide sanctions relief as part of the incentive for the North to act on its commitment to complete denuclearization.

Moon met French President Emmanuel Macron, seeking support for sanctions relief. But Macron turned down Moon's idea by making clear that sanctions need to remain in place and should only evolve with a complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID) process. He said France, a permanent member of the UNSC, is waiting for precise commitments from Pyongyang to show its real desire to dismantle its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

President Moon continued to harp on his position on the easing of sanctions every time he held a summit with other leaders, including British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Brussels on Oct. 18 and 19. However, their response was the same as Macron's. This means they spoke with one voice: Sanctions should stay in place until the goal of CVID is achieved.

Even the ASEM adopted its chair's statement calling on North Korea to completely, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle all its nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles and related programs and facilities in accordance with the relevant UNSC resolutions. The statement also requested the North should improve its human rights situation.

These uncompromising stances certainly reflect widespread international skepticism about the genuine intention of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's commitment to denuclearization. The U.S. administration has already reaffirmed that it will not ease or lift sanctions unless the North makes real progress in scrapping its nuclear weapons.

President Moon has apparently failed to read such skepticism in the international community. Or, he must have gone too far in seeking sanctions relief for the North in a bid to resume inter-Korean economic cooperation projects hastily. Moon should try to understand why the European leaders gave him the cold shoulder as far as sanctions were concerned.

What's worrisome is Moon's push for sanctions relief may weaken the united international front against the North's nuclear ambition. It could also drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington. So Moon should refrain from putting inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation before the shared goal of denuclearizing the North. We can never realize peace on the peninsula without denuclearization.

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