Thu Oct 11, 2018, 10:38 AM

Trump bangs table as Seoul differs over North Korea sanctions

It has always been a delicate balancing act, but a policy gap – the much feared “wedge” – now appears to be widening between South Korea and the United States over the issue of North Korean sanctions.

For decades, South Korea has been united with the United States against North Korea. There has always existed the possibility that the South will one day turn away from its political and military ally in order to embrace its estranged brother nation in the north.

In a range of trial balloons released over the last week, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha has raised the possibility of lifting bilateral sanctions against North Korea, while winning waivers on international sanctions. Her latest statement, made at the Korean National Assembly, appeared to be a bridge too far for Washington.

On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump, when asked whether South Korea would lift sanctions, said: “They won’t do it without our approval. They do nothing without our approval.”

That presidential broadside may appear to stamp upon Seoul’s sovereignty. But given the apparent pushback against North Korean engagement in Washington’s defense, foreign policy and intelligence communities, Seoul’s Moon Jae-in administration has little choice but to continue championing Trump.

The president may be the only member of his administration who believes that ties with North Korea – a foreign policy black hole – can improve.

And while Trump huffs and puffs, Kang’s moves may win approval elsewhere. On the same day that Kang spoke and Trump issued his brow-beating, China, North Korea and Russia called for eased sanctions.

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