Sanctions against North Korea must be slowly eased as part of the process of its de-nuclearisation and all sides must meet each other half-way during negotiations, Russia’s foreign minister said.
On a visit to Pyongyang on Thursday – where he met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho – Lavrov called for the phased lifting of sanctions on North Korea, indicating Pyongyang would not give up its nuclear weapons until that happens.
“It is absolutely obvious that – 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 at a press conference.
“This cannot be achieved at one go. There can be no immediate denuclearisation – this should be done step-by-step and all sides should go halfway during every single phase of this process.”
Washington is pressing North Korea to quickly give up all its nuclear weapons in a verifiable way in return for lifting sanctions and economic incentives.
But analysts say North Korea will be unwilling to cede its nuclear deterrent unless it is given security guarantees that the US will not try to topple the regime.
Lavrov met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang on a trip seen as an attempt by Moscow to make its voice heard amid a flurry of negotiations over the North’s nuclear disarmament.
His visit comes in advance of a possible landmark summit between US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader planned for June 12 in Singapore.
Moscow’s top diplomat expressed Russia’s support for the declaration between North and South Korea last month, in which they agreed to work for the denuclearisation of the peninsula.
North Korea’s leader Kim – meeting a top Russian official for the first time – thanked Moscow for standing by Pyongyang as the country tries to come in from the diplomatic cold.
“The situation on the Korean Peninsula is changing according to the interests of two countries. I’m glad that Putin’s government is acting in opposition to the domination of the United States, and we are always ready to negotiate with the Russian side,” Kim was quoted as saying in Russian media.
An analyst said despite the Russian delegation’s visit, Moscow does not have significant influence on North Korea’s position in the nuclear talks.
“For North Korea, Russia is less important compared with South Korea, the United States and China,” Andrei Lankov, a professor of Korean Studies at Kookmin University in Seoul, told Al Jazeera.
“The North Korean decision-makers largely concentrate on the countries that are especially important, which either constitute a potential or actual military threat like the United States and South Korea, or those that can be seen as a possible source of economic assistance and investment – like China and South Korea,” Lankov said.
He added Russia is unlikely to invest any significant amount money in Pyongyang and does not have an active military presence in the region.
The meeting in Pyongyang comes hours after a senior North Korean official met the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York City.
Kim Yong-chol and Pompeo will hold two rounds of talks on Thursday between the former spy chiefs on the potential Singapore meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un.
Disputes between Washington and Pyongyang led Trump to cancel the meeting – only to see a flurry of diplomatic efforts in recent days.