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South Korea

US ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris takes hard line on North’s nuclear programme

Diplomat says sanctions will not be lifted until Pyongyang has got rid of all its atomic weapons

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 September, 2018, 10:38am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 September, 2018, 10:09pm

The US will not lift sanctions on North Korea until Pyongyang completely dismantles its nuclear weapons programme, said Washington’s ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris, delivering a hard-line message after a week of diplomacy that led to optimism about prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea “now has the chance to lift itself out of its self-imposed poverty and isolation”, Harris said in a keynote address at the Korea Society’s annual dinner in New York.

“The potential for change, for positive change, in North Korea is limitless, but only if [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un fulfils his commitment to denuclearise and until then sanctions will remain in place,” he said.

The potential for change, for positive change, in North Korea is limitless
Harry Harris

Harris spoke days before the United Nations General Assembly in New York, a gathering touted as an opportunity for more progress in efforts to get the North to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme.

His comments followed the talks in Pyongyang between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in that ended with the signing of a joint declaration to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons. Moon said on Thursday that further progress “is something to be dealt with during the US-North Korea dialogue” and that Kim is still demanding an “action for an action” approach, where sanctions are gradually lifted with each step Pyongyang makes to denuclearise.

But the remarks by Harris appear to reflect a disconnect between expectations that could undercut the optimism generated by the Koreas summit.

“The US wants North Korea to denuclearise and until that happens the US is not going to ease sanctions,” Scott Seaman, a Korean affairs expert at Eurasia Group told South China Morning Post. “The North Koreans say it’s not going to happen this way … denuclearisation is not going to be just about us. There’s a disconnect about what the goals are. The language around this is very strange.”

North Korea has a “historic opportunity to lift itself out of the dark ages”, Seaman said, but needs to “take this huge step to denuclearise” before the US concedes anything.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent an invitation to his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong-ho for bilateral talks during the annual UN event, but a meeting has not been confirmed, the department’s spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Thursday.

Pompeo said after the meeting in Pyongyang that North Korea had committed to dismantling its nuclear weapons programme by the time US President Donald Trump’s term ends in January 2021.