America’s North Korea Sanctions: US-North Korea Relations Affecting North-South Relations

Since the voluntary denuclearization of North Korea seems like a fantasy, the United States position of tightening its grip around the North Korean regime’s throat becomes clearer in Washington every day. President Barack Obama stated that “judgment will be levied at the highest level,”* and the U.S. Treasury plans to strengthen its financial sanctions. The reason the U.S. is more actively pursuing this type of policy is catalyzed not only by the Sony Pictures hacking incident, but also by thoughts that North Korea has no intention of putting an end to its nuclear saber-rattling and wrongdoings.

This U.S. hardline stance is enough to pour cold water on long-awaited plans for resuming high-level talks for reconciliation between North and South Korea. President Park Geun-hye mentioned in her New Year’s address and conference the possibility of a North-South joint celebration marking the 70th anniversary of national independence, and she even proposed the resumption of cross-border reunions for separated families. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un stated in his New Year address that “there is no reason not to have top-level meetings — summit meetings — between North and South Korea.” The South Korean Ministry of Reunification was expecting an offer for ministerial-level meetings by Jan. 15, which never materialized.

With North-South relations already off to a rocky start, there is concern that relations will again fail to improve this year. Similarly, before imposing strong sanctions on North Korea, the U.S. must have gauged the South Korean position on the issue. President Park stated, “Since North Korea’s hacks first provoked the USA, the U.S. was justified in responding,” and she further explained that “South Korea and the U.S. are not out of sync. This does not affect North-South relations.” However, this seeming contradiction still attracts public attention. Sung Kim, the U.S. State Department’s special representative for North Korea, said that “[the U.S.] supports North-South dialogue,” but also stated that “principles of denuclearization must be respected.”* This prerequisite of support has left a bitter aftertaste.

In order to dispel any dissonance between South Korea and the United States, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has committed to visit Washington to address any differences in position. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterates that their relationship is far from cracking, much less breaking completely. However, the U.S. sanctions are still limiting chances for North-South dialogue. In order for South Korea to confidently secure a position on these matters, it is essential that the U.S. and South Korea coordinate their actions.

* Editor’s note: The original quotations, accurately translated, could not be verified.

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