By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea wants international sanctions banning its metal exports and imports of refined fuel and other necessities lifted in order to restart denuclearisation talks with the United States, South Korean lawmakers said on Tuesday.
The North has also demanded the easing of sanctions on its imports of luxury goods to be able to bring in fine liquors and suits, the lawmakers said after being briefed by South Korea’s main intelligence agency.
The briefing came a week after the two Koreas restored hotlines that North Korea suspended a year ago.
North Korea’s state-run media made no mention on Tuesday of any new request for the lifting sanctions to restart talks.
The South Korea legislators said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in had both expressed a willingness to rebuild trust and improve ties since April, and Kim had asked to reconnect the hotlines.
They also said North Korea was in need of some 1 million tons of rice, as its economy was battered by the coronavirus pandemic and bad weather last year.
South Korea’s central bank said last week North Korea’s economy suffered its biggest contraction in 23 years in 2020 as it was battered by U.N. sanctions, COVID-19 lockdown measures and the weather.
Moon has made improving diplomatic and economic relations with North Korea a top priority, while the United States has long insisted relations with North Korea can not improve until it gives up its nuclear and missile programmes.
North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006 and test-fired missiles capable of hitting the United States.
The U.N. Security Council has issued a wide range of sanctions against North Korea, including entities and individuals in the reclusive country, for pursuing its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes in defiance of U.N. resolutions.
The United States, Japan and South Korea have also issued sanctions on North Korea but they are not binding on other countries.
A senior official in President Joe Biden’s administration told Reuters in March that North Korea had not responded to behind-the-scenes diplomatic outreach since mid-February.
The Biden administration has been cautious in publicly describing its approach to North Korea, saying it was carrying out a comprehensive policy review following former President Donald Trump’s unprecedented engagement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korea has not tested a nuclear weapon or its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) since 2017, ahead of an historic meeting in Singapore between leader Kim Jong Un and Trump in 2018.
That meeting and two subsequent ones failed to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons or its missile programme.
Independent U.N. sanctions monitors found that North Korea maintained and developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes throughout 2020 in violation of sanctions, helping fund them with some $300 million stolen through cyber hacks.
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