South Korean Envoys to Meet With North Korean Leader
Special envoys from South Korean President Moon Jae-in have reportedly met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Monday. Media reports say Kim hosted a dinner for the South Koreans.
The 10-member delegation headed by Moon's top national security advisor, Chung Eui-Yong, arrived in Pyongyang after a rare direct flight from Seoul to convey Moon's message concerning denuclearization and a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Speaking to reporters in Seoul before his departure, Chung said that he would “deliver President Moon's strong determination and willingness for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and making genuine and permanent peace (on the Peninsula)."
Chung also said he will push for "in-depth" talks to find ways to help arrange the restart of dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington.
"For this, we plan to have in-depth discussions not only on South-North talks, but also ways to continue talks between North Korea and the international community, including the United States," Chung said.
That mission could be complicated by military planned drills, however, as a commentary published by North Korea's official KCNA news agency warned that Pyongyang would "counter the U.S." if it holds joint military exercises with South Korea in April.
The special delegation the head of the National Intelligence Service, Suh Hoon, who is a veteran in dealings with the North. Hoon is known to have been deeply involved in negotiations to arrange two previous inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007.
After the two-day visit to North Korea, the South Korean special envoys will travel to the United States to brief American officials on their discussions in Pyongyang.
In sending his envoys to Pyongyang, Moon is seeking to reciprocate Kim Jong Un's decision to send a senior delegation, including his sister, Kim Yo Jong, to last month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Moon has yet to accept Kim Jong Un's invitation to visit Pyongyang.
Those North Korean officials told Moon they were willing to restart talks with the U.S., but President Donald Trump responded by saying talks will happen only “under the right conditions.''
North Korea Sanctions Impact Mitigated By Illicit Trade
It is difficult to gauge the impact of the increased sanctions imposed on North Korea, with reports of both plummeting exports in the last year and increasing illicit trade of banned minerals and arms.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy aims to increase sanctions on North Korea and force the Kim Jong Un government to seek relief by agreeing to give up its threatening nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program, or face increasing hardship and possible collapse from within. If sanctions fail to end the North Korean nuclear threat, the Trump administration has emphasized it is prepared to use military force, as well.
The latest U.S.-led round of sanctions at the United Nations Security Council, which were imposed in August and September of 2017, produced a total export ban on North Korea’s $3 billion coal and other mineral industries, its $800 million clothing manufacturing output, and its lucrative seafood industry, as well as cutting oil imports by a third.
China, which accounts for over 90 percent of North Korea’s total trade, reported a 37 percent drop in exports from the North in 2017 as a result of the sanctions. If fully enforced, the restrictions would cut the North’s exports by 90 percent in 2018, a loss estimated to be worth $2.3 billion. Independent media reports have confirmed significantly reduced trade and business activity in Dandong, the Chinese border city where most trade with North Korea occurs.
A number of Chinese banks have also reportedly restricted North Korea financial activities, in compliance with U.N. sanctions, which is rapidly reducing Pyongyang’s foreign currency reserves.
There are concerns that China, Russia and other counties are illicitly bolstering the North Korean economy through the smuggling of banned commodities, along with arms and chemical weapons sales, and cyber attacks.
Portions of a confidential United Nations report that was recently made public said North Korea earned close to $200 million from exporting coal and other banned commodities last year by using false documents and complicit foreign companies in China, Malaysia, Russia and Vietnam.
While Beijing and Moscow voted in favor of imposing tough sanctions on North Korea in the Security Council, both also want to maintain economic and political stability on the Korean Peninsula, and have called for increased negotiations to peacefully resolve the nuclear stand-off.
There have been reports that Russia is becoming a new transit hub for banned North Korean coal to compensate for the export ban in China. Moscow and Pyongyang have denied these illicit coal trade accusations. Even if true, Russia accounts for only 2 percent of North Korea’s trade.
In recent months Japan also reported four suspected illegal transfers at sea between sanctioned North Korean vessels and international ships that were witnessed by surveillance aircraft.
The U.S. in February issued new unilateral sanctions on companies and vessels linked to North Korean shipping to restrict illicit ship- to-ship transfers. Washington tried to include forced maritime interceptions of North Korean vessels in the last round of U.N. sanctions but could not convince Chins and Russia to agree.