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US, South Korean Presidents Agree on Push for Stronger Sanctions Against North

Image made from video by North Korea's KRT released on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at an undisclosed location.
Image made from video by North Korea's KRT released on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at an undisclosed location.

U.S. President Donald Trump and his counterpart in Seoul on Monday agreed to lift payload restrictions on South Korean missiles and push for even stronger sanctions at the United Nations against North Korea.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is also calling for the United Nations to consider blocking oil shipments to the North, government officials in Seoul told reporters.

The United States this week will circulate a draft of a new resolution regarding North Korea and wants a vote in one week (Sept. 11), Ambassador Nikki Haley told the U.N. Security Council on Monday. Trump’s 40-minute phone call with Moon took place a day after North Korea conducted what it says was a test of its new thermonuclear weapon.

The two leaders discussed countermeasures against North Korea's sixth nuclear test "in-depth," according to a news release from South Korean presidential spokesman Park Soo-hyun.

Moon subsequently spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who told the South Korean leader that the only way to resolve the crisis on the Korean peninsula is through diplomacy and talks, according to the Kremlin.

President Trump has been expressing his displeasure not only with Pyongyang, but also with Seoul.

Following the detonation at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, Trump criticized Moon’s government for “talk of appeasement.”

The U.S. president and some of his key Cabinet members are warning Pyongyang of a massive military response if it directly threatens America or its allies.

Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are vowing to stop all U.S. trade with any country doing business with North Korea – a move that would primarily target Pyongyang’s neighbor and main trading partner, China. More than 90 percent of North Korea’s trade income on exports come from China.

Analysts are skeptical of the viability of an embargo and whether Beijing would agree to a move that could cause the collapse of Kim Jong Un’s regime, something Beijing fears would lead to chaos in the North and spill across the border into China.

“For a variety of reasons, including concerns of implosion and collapse, concern over nuclear weapons, concern over human suffering and uncertainty over whether a trade embargo would change behavior, China and others aren't likely to follow the U.S. lead at this time,” says Deborah Elms, founder and executive director of the Asia Trade Center in Singapore.

“The worst result usually comes from a half-enforced trade embargo, which is what is likely to result now,” Elms tells VOA.

Before the North Korean nuclear test, but after Pyongyang flew a ballistic missile high over Japan (last Tuesday Asia time), Trump also signaled he is going to end the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) as part of his quest to renegotiate economic agreements made by previous administrations in Washington that he views as unfair to the United States.

White House officials say such an announcement on KORUS could occur Tuesday.

“With real time and growing threats from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, I cannot imagine a worse time for President Trump to bully an ally like South Korea with his nativist and transactional approach to trade,” says Gordon Flake, CEO of the Perth USAsia Center.

“The timing and tenor of the Trump administration's strategy on trade threatens not only the U.S.-ROK alliance, but will undermine U.S. credibility with other allies throughout the region,” Flake, also a Korea Economic Institute of America advisory council member, tells VOA.

There is also little clamor by American corporations to scrap the trade pact with South Korea.

“Our companies tell us that it (KORUS) is a good deal as written,” said U.S. Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President for Asia, Tami Overby, appearing on CNBC.