SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - South Korea is considering lifting some of its unilateral sanctions against North Korea to create more momentum for diplomacy aimed at improving relations and defusing the nuclear crisis, the South’s foreign minister said Wednesday.
During a parliamentary audit of her ministry, Kang Kyung-wha said the government is reviewing whether to lift sanctions South Korea imposed on the North in 2010 following a deadly attack on a warship that killed 45 South Korean sailors.
South Korea then effectively shut down all cross-border economic cooperation except for a jointly run factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, which was shuttered in February 2016 after a North Korean nuclear test and long-range rocket launch. The so-called “May 24 measures” of 2010 also banned North Korea from using shipping lanes in South Korean territory.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has mostly stayed firm on sanctions despite actively engaging with North Korea and floating the possibility of huge investments and joint economic projects in return for the North’s relinquishment of its nuclear weapons.
A move by South Korea to lift its unilateral sanctions would have little immediate effect since U.S.-led international sanctions remain in place. But it’s clear Seoul is preparing to restart joint economic projects if the larger nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea begin yielding results.
Moon has described inter-Korean engagement as crucial to resolving the nuclear standoff. A large number of South Korean business leaders accompanied Moon last month to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, where he and leader Kim Jong Un agreed to normalize operations at the Kaesong factory park and resume joint tours to North Korea when possible, voicing optimism the international sanctions could end and allow such projects.