North Koreans Optimistic That Flurry of Diplomacy Will Bring Sanctions Relief

nk-optimism.jpg A North Korean artistic performance hailing national reunification in May Day Stadium in the capital Pyongyang, Oct. 5, 2018.

A renewed flurry of diplomacy with North Korea has made many people in the isolated country optimistic that subsequent summits between leader Kim Jong Un and the presidents of South Korea and the United States could lead to the removal of UN sanctions and improve the economy, a Pyongyang-based source told RFA’s Korean Service.

The source said that in the aftermath of previous summits between Kim and Presidents Moon Jae-in and Donald Trump that there is a “growing sense of optimism” among the people, and they now have “an expectation for new changes in the economic sector, and also in the matter of addressing the issue of reunification.”

“Since South Korean President’s Moon Jae-in’s last visit to Pyongyang, people here in North Korea are receptive to the idea of reunification more so than ever,” the source said.

“North Koreans are hoping that the U.S. Secretary of State’s visit to Pyongyang will successfully transition into the next summit between the North Korean leader and the U.S. president, so that the sanctions against North Korea will eventually be lifted to improve the economy, which in return will enable a more prosperous lifestyle for the people,” the source added, speaking after Mike Pompeo’s recent visit to the North Korean capital.

North Korea is under a series of international economic sanctions approved by the U.N. Security Council after Kim and his predecessor father Kim Jong Il conducted nuclear and missile tests. In addition to those measures, aimed at cutting off hard currency funds for Pyongyang's weapons programs, the North also faces unilateral U.S., South Korean and Japanese sanctions.

The Pyongyang source also said the upcoming third inter-Korean summit of 2018, which is scheduled for December, has raised local hoped that the next Kim-Moon meeting “continues building trust and developing the atmosphere of reconciliation and cooperation between North and South,” so that “they can also experience the economic prosperity that South Korean citizens enjoy.”

This optimism also extends outside the capital, where North Koreans appear to enjoy unusual freedom to discuss the issue.

“This kind of phenomenon has never been seen before. It has changed dramatically since the meeting between the two Korean leaders,” a different source in North Pyongan province told RFA.

“In the past even mentioning South Korea or the United States would be met with hostility, but people now feel that they can talk about both freely, without hesitation,” the source said.

Sanctions relief still far off

The source also said the North Korean diplomatic moves have also been good for relations with China, saying “there was an atmosphere of heightened tension along the border with China, but this tension is being relieved following the supreme leader’s recent trips to China."

“However, many citizens are still cautious about this peaceful atmosphere as they remember that in the past the relationship between North and South could go from good one day to disastrous the next,” the source said.

Regardless, citizens are still hopeful that the country can “maintain a peaceful atmosphere while strengthening the economy, and that everything will proceed smoothly as the country looks to build relationships with South Korea and the United States,” the source said.

While there may be a lot of optimism within North Korea that sanctions could soon be lifted, developments outside the North indicate there remain many hurdles to clear for this to become a reality.

Following Pompeo’s visit, the AP reported that South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said that Seoul was considering lifting some of its unilateral sanctions. Most of Seoul’s sanctions were put in place in 2010, following a North Korean attack on a South Korean Navy Corvette in which 46 South Korean sailors lost their lives.

Kang’s comments were met with an angry reaction by South Korean conservatives and her ministry backtracked, saying that there was not yet a “full-fledged” review on sanctions, and no decision had been made.

When asked about her comments, Trump said that South Korea “won’t do that without our approval. They do nothing without our approval.”

In addition to winning relief from international sanctions, Pyongyang wants the United States to agree to an official end to the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended without a formal peace treaty.

The United States and its allies want North Korea to commit to take concrete steps to abandoning its nuclear weapons program, including producing an inventory of its atomic bomb arsenal and allowing U.N. inspectors to verify disarmament.

Reported by Lee Myung-chul of RFA’s Korean service. Translated by Duk-in Han. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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