Sanctions South Korea imposed on North Korea more than four years ago may finally be lifted in the interest of advancing inter-Korea talks, a South Korean official indicated Friday. The official’s comments come one day after the U.S. introduced legislation to broaden sanctions on foreign businesses dealing with the reclusive North Korea.
“Inter-Korean economic cooperation has been stalled due to the May 24 measures. But we need to meet even if there is conflict,” South Korea’s Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said Friday, according to the Korea Times. He added that Seoul has been studying the best way to ease and eventually lift the sanctions, which he said need to be resolved as soon as possible.
North Korea had shown a willingness to conduct these talks since its leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year address in January, but it has demanded the sanctions cutting exchanges between the two countries be lifted before Pyongyang will even deign to attend. Seoul had previously rejected those demands, saying terms would be discussed at the talks, not before them. Seoul placed the sanctions on Pyongyang in May 2010 when North Korean navy ships were accused of firing a torpedo at a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors, for which Pyongyang has denied any culpability. The two countries on the Korean Peninsula have been divided since their war in 1950-53, which ended in an armistice.
While South Korea mulls working with North Korea through fewer sanctions, U.S. lawmakers are considering stiffening penalties against the nuclear nation. “In the wake of the state-sponsored cyberattack on Sony Pictures, the bipartisan legislation targets North Korea’s access to the hard currency and other goods that help keep the regime in power,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., according to Reuters. The bill would punish more harshly foreign companies found doing business with North Korea. This development builds on sanctions the U.S. Treasury Department imposed on North Korea in early January over the country’s alleged hack of the Sony Pictures computer network late last year, before the release of the comedy film, “The Interview.” Kim Jong Un has denied Pyongyang carried out the cyberattack.
It is believed the newly proposed U.S. sanctions would largely affect Chinese businesses, as China bought 90 percent of North Korea’s exports in 2013, according to South Korea’s International Trade Association data. Beijing is one of the key players in helping South Korea normalize relations with its northern neighbor, with Seoul nuclear delegates recently traveling to Beijing to discuss resuming the six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing North Korea and improving its human-rights record. A Chinese foreign ministry representative, Hong Lei, has said frequent sanctions would not help East Asian efforts in trying to engage with North Korea, Reuters reported.