Photo: AFP/Don Emmert

As speculation swirls that Beijing and Seoul are ready to ease the pressure on Pyongyang, after the start of a diplomatic process that has lowered the temperature on the Korean Peninsula significantly, South Korea’s top diplomat assured the US that it wasn’t ready to lift sanctions just yet.

“This is not the stage for lifting [sanctions on North Korea],” Foreign Affairs Minister Kang Kyung-hwa said on Monday, according to The Hankyoreh.

Her clarification came after reports that she had stressed the importance of lifting sanctions in a meeting on July 20 with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Kang said she meant that the international community needed to “have exceptions to sanctions recognized when necessary for inter-Korean efforts,” stressing that the time had not yet arrived.

Regarding flexibility on sanctions, one top Foreign Ministry official told reporters last week that Seoul “needs exceptions [to the sanctions] in some respects as a follow-up measure to the Panmunjom Declaration between South and North.

“We are asking that exceptions within the framework of sanctions be recognized in terms of eliciting dialogue and cooperation with North Korea, and we are working on resolving the matter step by step through discussions with the US and the UNSC sanctions committee,” the official was quoted as saying.

The news comes amid reports that North Korea is stepping up its lobbying efforts to get sanctions relief from China, and Kim Jong-un has convened top diplomats in Beijing.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that the North’s top envoys in Russia, the UK, Malaysia, Singapore and Geneva have all been spotted in the Beijing airport. North Korea’s ambassador to China arrived in Beijing on Tuesday.

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