US President Donald Trump says South Korea would need Washington’s approval to relieve sanctions against North Korea imposed over the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship.
The sanctions ban all North Korean ships entering South Korean ports and cut off most inter-Korean exchanges, including tourism, trade and aid.
“They won’t do it without our approval. They do nothing without our approval,” Trump told reporters Wednesday, when asked about her comments.
Trump has previously said sanctions will remain in place until North Korea it denuclearizes.
Trump made the comments after South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said on Wednesday that the sanctions, imposed against Pyongyang following a torpedo attack on a corvette that killed 46 South Korean sailors in 2010, were under review.
Kang backtracked on her remarks after facing criticism from some South Korean conservative lawmakers that the sanctions cannot be removed unless North Korea first apologized for the attack, a stance adopted by former South Korean governments.
Following talks with the North Korean leader, the US secretary of state says Pyongyang is ready to let international inspectors visit key nuclear and missile sites.
Trump’s remarks triggered tense debate in South Korea, with some conservative lawmakers calling them an “insult”.
“‘Approval’ is a strong and insulting word meant to say that we are progressing too fast with the North without seeking consensus with the United States,” said Kim Jae-kyung from a conservative opposition party.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has pursued closer ties with the North, holding three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un this year.
Last month’s third summit in Pyongyang was partly aimed at salvaging faltering nuclear talks between the North and the United States.
At their latest meeting, Moon and Kim agreed to resume economic cooperation, with construction work to be started within this year to reconnect rail and road links. They also agreed to reopen a joint factory park in the North’s border city of Kaesong and the Mount Kumgang tours, when conditions are met.
In a rare sign of discord between Washington and Seoul, Kang said on Wednesday that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had expressed “discontent” with an inter-Korean military pact reached during a summit last month.
North Korean authorities have complained about continued US and international sanctions on their country, calling them a “source of mistrust.” They have also denounced what they have called “gangster-like behavior” by the US.
The UN Security Council has unanimously imposed several rounds of tough sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in an attempt to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.