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US stresses ‘unified response’ on NK amid diplomatic row with Seoul

The US State Department has stressed a “unified response” with South Korea in approaching North Korean denuclearization issue in a bid to soothe a diplomatic row over sanctions relief.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Wednesday during a parliamentary audit that consultation was underway with the relevant ministries on lifting sanctions that were imposed by South Korea after a North Korean torpedo attack sank a South Korean Navy corvette in 2010.

She later walked back the claim, with her ministry denying a review of sanctions was underway.

Her comments were criticized by Washington as an attempt to create a crack in the sanctions regime on North Korea, prompting a blunt response from the US President Donald Trump.

“They won’t do that without our approval,” said Trump when asked about Kang’s comments. “They do nothing without our approval.” 

US President Donald Trump. Yonhap
US President Donald Trump. Yonhap

Some South Korean lawmakers and activists expressed anger over Trump’s comment, calling it a “diplomatic insult.” They also claimed it was a response to the foreign minister’s careless remark and warned that it could break a united front with the US on North Korea issue.

A US State Department’s spokesperson later reaffirmed that the US would continue to work with South Korea in dealing with Pyongyang.

“The US and our ally Republic of Korea remain committed to close coordination on our response to North Korea,” the US State Department’s spokesperson was quoted as saying by Radio Asia Free on Thursday in reference to the latest diplomatic squabble.

The Moon Jae-in administration is seeking to enhance economic ties with North Korea through various infrastructure projects, but Washington has cautioned moves that could dampen the “maximum pressure” campaign on North Korea.

While Washington insists that sanctions remain in place until significant progress is made on denuclearization, speculation had been rampant that Seoul would seek to lift its own economic sanctions to foster inter-Korean projects.

“Don’t you think (Trump’s remark) is insulting? Do you agree that South Korea can’t do anything without US approval?” said Rep. Kim Moo-sung of the conservative Liberty Korea Party, as he grilled Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon over Trump’s comment during a parliamentary audit on Thursday.

Cho said while it was “a bit inappropriate to say” that South Korea can’t do anything without US approval, Washington agrees that there is room for Seoul to maneuver when it comes to socioeconomic exchanges with North Korea.