By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg News · David Wainer, Jihye Lee
The American side was responding to a UN Security Council proposal by China and Russia to lessen the economic embargo on North Korea. The countries - Cold War allies of North Korea who have recently repaired ties with leader Kim Jong Un - said the changes were warranted because the regime had complied with United Nations resolutions and needed "humanitarian and livelihood" relief, according to a draft provided by diplomats who asked not to be named.
The U.S. rejected the proposal, saying it was premature to ease sanctions while North Korea advances prohibited weapons systems and threatens escalation, according to a state department official who asked not be named. The U.S. remained committed to achieving North Korea's "complete denuclearization" through negotiations, the official said.
The Chinese-Russian resolution, which may prompt further Security Council discussions Tuesday, came after Trump's top envoy to North Korea countered Kim's threat of a "Christmas" provocation by urging renewed talks and to usher in a "season of peace." Trump later warned the regime against any weapons tests or other actions in the coming days.
"We're watching it," Trump told reporters Monday at the White House. "We'll see. I'd be disappointed if something would be in the works. And if it is, we'll take care of it."
Tensions have slowly risen on the Korean Peninsula as time runs out on Kim's threat to take a "new path" if Trump doesn't make him a better offer in nuclear talks. North Korea has fired a record number of short-range ballistic missile in recent months and has threatened to withdraw Kim's two-year-old freeze on tests of nuclear weapons and longer-range rockets needed to carrier them to the U.S. mainland.
Last week, the U.S.'s ambassador to UN, Kelly Craft, warned of "deeply troubling indications" that North Korea was poised for a major provocation such as launching "space vehicles using long-range ballistic missile technology" or even test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missiles "which are designed to attack the continental United States."
On Saturday, North Korea said it had conducted a second "crucial test" to boost its nuclear-deterrent capabilities. Such tests have put further pressure on the U.S. to try to break the deadlock in negotiations between the two countries after working-level talks collapsed in October in Stockholm.
The two sides have reached no agreements since committing to "work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" during an unprecedented face to face-to-face meeting between Trump and Kim in June 2018. The U.S. has so far refused to lift sanctions without a stronger pledge from North Korea to eliminate its nuclear weapon capabilities.
The Chinese-Russian resolution included exemptions for inter-Korean rail-and-road projects long sought by Seoul, potentially reviving a source of tension between Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The proposal would allow sales of machinery and vehicles for infrastructure construction, as well as household items such as air conditioners, dishwashers and vacuum cleaners.
South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a statement that the resolution was a Security Council matter, although the government would follow developments closely.
The U.S.'s North Korea envoy, Stephen Biegun, urged Kim to return to talks during a visit to Seoul, which was viewed as the administration's last chance to dial back tensions. Biegun also met with Moon and Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chol and was expected to head to Tokyo later in the week.
"It is time for us to do our jobs. Let's get this done," Biegun said in a direct message to North Korea. "We are here, and you know how to reach us."