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U.S. mulling 12- to 18-month sanctions relief in exchange for Yongbyon, nuclear freeze: source

North Korea 14:00 July 11, 2019

By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, July 11 (Yonhap) -- The United States is considering offering a 12- to 18-month suspension of certain sanctions on North Korea in exchange for the dismantlement of its main nuclear facility and a freeze of the entire nuclear program, a source close to White House deliberations on North Korea said Thursday.

The potential offer would see the suspension of U.N. Security Council sanctions restricting North Korea's exports of coal and textiles -- a major source of income for the regime -- and mark a compromise between the two countries after the collapse of their second summit in Vietnam in February.

The source spoke to Yonhap News Agency and two other outlets just days before the expected resumption of U.S.-North Korea negotiations. The date and location of the talks have not been announced yet.

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as they meet at the Freedom House on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, which separates the two Koreas, on June 30, 2019. (Yonhap)

"The White House, when working-level talks begin, wants to set the conditions whereby they can begin the process of North Korea's denuclearization," the source said, adding that the suspension of sanctions could be renewed if progress in denuclearization "moves at a good pace" but snap back if the North cheats in any way.

If it works, the source said, the model could also be applied to facilities other than the main nuclear complex in Yongbyon and move in a step-by-step manner until the entire weapons of mass destruction program is fully closed and all sanctions are lifted.

"This is important, as it allows the U.S. and the North to test their intentions and build trust, but in a way that furthers denuclearization and sanctions relief," the source said.

Verifying and inspecting Yongbyon's dismantlement as well as the nuclear freeze could be tricky, he said, noting the need for a detailed agreement. A freeze would mean not making any more fissile material and warheads.

U.S. President Donald Trump walked out of the Hanoi summit without a deal after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un asked for the removal of nearly all sanctions in return for Yongbyon's dismantlement.

Trump told reporters at the time that Yongbyon wasn't enough because there were other facilities, including a uranium enrichment plant, that the U.S. knew about.

"With the failure of Hanoi, they are mindful that being flexible, while at the same time making a strong offer to North Korea that tests its intentions while building trust, is important," the source said. "(The new model) does not give North Korea the amount of sanctions relief it wanted and asks a little more in return from the North."

The White House apparently wants to move the ball forward, even if it means offering several other concessions.

If North Korea agrees to the dismantlement of Yongbyon and a complete nuclear freeze, the U.S. is considering signing a declaration formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War, according to the source.

In addition, it would be willing to establish liaison offices in each other's capitals and set up a separate channel or office to coordinate the sustained recovery of American troops' remains from the North.

"The White House is open to many ideas to incentivize the North to make what they call 'a critical first step' on denuclearization," the source said. "Their first goal in the talks is to prove to the North that they can trust the U.S. and that Washington wants to do something historic to ensure the hostile intent of both sides is now firmly in the past."

hague@yna.co.kr
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