As Pyongyang engages in hectic diplomacy with the U.S. and South Korea, Russia is reasserting itself in the equation as the country’s foreign minister met with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on Thursday, May 31. Lavrov's visit coincided with North Korea's senior leader General Kim Yong-chol's visit to the United States to hold preparatory talks ahead of an on-again-off-again Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit.
As Lavrov met Kim Jong-un, he extended an invitation to the North Korean leader to visit Russia. He also said that Moscow supported peace and progress on the Korean peninsula and highly valued a declaration signed by Pyongyang and Seoul.
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Speaking to reporters after meeting with his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho, Lavrov called for the phased lifting of sanctions on North Korea, suggesting that denuclearization would only be achievable if sanctions were scaled back.
"As we start discussions on how to resolve the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula, it is understood that the solution cannot be comprehensive without the lifting of sanctions," Lavrov said according to state news agency Sputnik.
Without directly mentioning the U.S., Lavrov said Moscow hoped all sides would take a measured approach to the planned meeting on North Korea's nuclear program. "This will allow for the realization not only of the denuclearization of the whole Korean peninsula but also to provide sustainable peace and stability across north-east Asia," Lavrov was quoted as saying by his ministry.
Lavrov also cautioned as well as underscored Russia’s historical relations with North Korea. He added that Russia had a "common understanding with the North Korean side about the need to take the utmost care about what is happening now in terms of establishing contacts, normalizing relations between the two Koreas, between the DPRK and the United States, and avoiding the temptation to demand 'everything at once.'"
Lavrov's comments are likely to act as a wrench in the spokes as the Trump Administration has stated its stand that the lifting of sanctions is dependent on the North's willingness to begin the process of full denuclearization. The success of the policy, known as the "maximum pressure campaign" remains dependent on the support of the international community, including Russia.
Russia shares a border with North Korea but has so far remained on the sidelines amid the flurry of diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang. However, in 2017 Moscow had offered to mediate between the two countries when tensions were high following a series of missile tests by North Korea.