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Nikkei Editorial

There can be no US-North Korea deal without denuclearization

Sanctions work, but they require global cooperation

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their summit in Hanoi on Feb. 28   © Reuters

As long as North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons and missiles, there can be no peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. U.S. President Donald Trump therefore did the right thing in telling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their summit in Hanoi that sanctions will not be lifted unless Pyongyang takes clear steps toward denuclearization.     

At this precarious stage, it is crucial that the international community continues to work together in urging the Kim regime to go nuclear-free.

"Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety," Trump told the press after his meeting with Kim. The U.S. leader said the North Korean side put greater emphasis not on weapons but on reviving the country's economy.

However, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho claimed in a press conference that Pyongyang had asked for a partial, not complete, lifting of sanctions. A senior U.S. State Department official responded to that claim by saying North Korea demanded that "basically all the sanctions except for [those related to] armaments" be lifted.

The U.S. side was apparently ready to propose opening a liaison office in Pyongyang and other moves symbolizing a deeper relationship, in the hope of concluding a package of agreements in Hanoi. But ultimately, the two sides were unable to narrow their differences over the sanctions. Still, we can take relief in the fact that Trump -- who appeared eager to boost his sagging approval ratings -- did not jump at North Korea's token gesture toward denuclearization.

When Kim visited Beijing in January to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he stressed that Pyongyang was "sticking to the stance of denuclearization" and vowed to try to make the second summit with Trump a success in the world's eyes. It seems, however, that Kim's true priority is the security of his own regime. Regrettably, the Hanoi talks offered little indication that North Korea is serious about becoming nuclear-free.

Complete denuclearization will require the North to declare all of its nuclear facilities and materials, and missile bases. But Pyongyang refuses to do so, saying it would open the sites up to potential military strikes. It is impossible to draw a road map to denuclearization without a full picture of the country's nuclear and missile programs.

The fact that Kim called for sanctions relief during the Hanoi summit is a testament to how effective executing sanctions based on United Nations resolutions is for winning concessions from North Korea.

However, some countries are, little by little, easing sanctions on North Korea, encouraged by the growing atmosphere of rapprochement between Washington and Pyongyang in the wake of the first Trump-Kim summit, in June 2018. Foreign boats have often been spotted making illegal ship-to-ship transfers of goods -- such as petroleum products -- in the waters near North Korea.

Governments that want to see a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula must work together to ensure that sanctions on North Korea are implemented properly. Japan and the U.S., especially, need to urge the South Korean administration of President Moon Jae-in, who is leaning toward rapprochement with the North, to stay committed to this joint effort.

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