After facing backlash from the United States, the South Korean government has backed off its talk of lifting some of its sanctions on North Korea.
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On Wednesday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha announced that South Korea was considering lifting some of its sanctions on the Hermit Kingdom. These sanctions, dubbed the May 24 measures, had been put in place after an attack on a South Korean warship in 2010 that killed 46. South Korea has blamed North Korea for the attack, which the North continues to deny.
Kang argued that the measures needed to be reviewed because negotiations between the two countries were improving and many of the sanctions from the measures were identical with existing U.N. sanctions against North Korea. The U.N. had increased its sanctions against North Korea after dictator Kim Jong Un had increased his nuclear missile tests in 2016.
The May 24 measures include the South blocking North Korea's access to the Jeju Straight. Other routes take more time and use more fuel.
Later on Wednesday, Trump responded to Kang's comments, telling reporters, “They won’t do it without our approval. They do nothing without our approval.” Trump has insisted that sanctions against North Korea remain in effect until it shows progress towards denuclearization. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been eager to improve diplomatic relations with North Korea.
Conservatives in South Korea had also expressed their disapproval of lifting the sanctions but were also bothered by Trump's comments. Conservative opposition party member Kim Jae-kyung told The Associated Press, “‘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.”
By Thursday, the South Korean government had backtracked. Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said that the government had never seriously considered lifting sanctions. Cho added that the 2010 sanctions would never be lifted until North Korea admitted that it was behind the attack, saying, "At the current stage, I think it's a little early for us to call for the lifting or easing of the U.N. sanctions."