U.S. Sanctions on N. Korea Relaxed : Restrictions on Trade, Informal Contact Reduced

Times Staff Writer

The Reagan Administration, responding to South Korean President Roh Tae Woo’s campaign to draw North Korea out of its decades of isolation, said Monday that it will ease the U.S. trade embargo against the Communist regime and facilitate private visits by academics, athletes and cultural figures.

Announcing the results of a months-long re-evaluation of the U.S. approach to North Korea, State Department spokesman Charles Redman said that the Administration also has reinstated a policy allowing U.S. diplomats to engage North Korean officials in substantive discussions when they meet in “neutral settings” such as diplomatic receptions in nations where both countries maintain embassies. The United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations.

Fall Short of Initiatives

The steps stopped far short of the initiatives that Roh has suggested. The South Korean president has called for an end to Washington’s trade embargo against Pyongyang, for instance. But the Administration agreed only to consider--and on a case-by-case basis--the exports of “humanitarian goods such as foodstuffs, clothing and medicine.”


Redman said that North Korea would remain on the U.S. government’s list of nations that promote international terrorism. And, he added, “general commercial trade remains unlawful.”

Roh, the former general who won a free election last December to succeed the authoritarian Chun Doo Hwan, has sought to ease the bitter hostility on the divided Korean Peninsula. He has proposed a summit meeting with North Korean President Kim Il Sung and has suggested other steps intended to break Pyongyang’s isolation.

North Korea’s austere regime discourages most contacts with the outside world, with the exception of limited relationships with the Soviet Union and China. Roh described his plans to President Reagan during a White House meeting Oct. 20.

Roh’s overture to the north appears to be in part a response to radical South Korean students who have demanded reunification of Korea, which was split into hostile camps after World War II. The animosity was reinforced by the Korean War, which ended in an armistice in 1953.


The United States, which provided the bulk of the troops that turned back North Korea’s invasion of the south, has regarded North Korea as an outlaw nation ever since the war. Because of the limited nature of the U.S. response to Roh’s initiative, Washington’s official hostility toward North Korea now exceeds that of the Seoul government.

Praises Roh’s Suggestions

In announcing the U.S. action, Redman praised Roh for “constructive suggestions . . . to help draw the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea out of isolation and encourage it to abandon its longstanding policies of confrontation and violence.”

He hinted that the Administration might take additional steps if North Korea responds positively to Monday’s announcement.

“There are a lot of things they could do, that would be essentially of no cost to them even, that would be encouraging signals of a more constructive policy,” Redman said. “To name a few: progress in dialogue between the two Koreas; return of our Korean conflict missing-in-action remains. . . ; eliminating vicious anti-American propaganda; undertaking with us the constructive confidence-building measures which we and the Republic of (South) Korea have proposed to reduce tensions along the DMZ (demilitarized zone), and providing credible assurances that North Korea has abandoned its use of terrorism and violence as an instrument of state policy.”

The new authorization of “humanitarian trade” is not expected to result in a significant exchange of goods because Pyongyang lacks the hard currency to pay for such imports.

The Administration’s decision to ease travel restrictions may be more far-reaching.

“The United States government will encourage unofficial, non-governmental visits from the DPRK (North Korea) in academics, sports, cultural and other areas so long as prospective DPRK visitors are eligible under our visa laws,” Redman said.


Eased Twice Before

Redman said that twice before, in 1983 and 1987, the Administration eased its flat ban on meetings between U.S. and North Korean diplomats to permit discussions of substance when individuals were thrown together in neutral settings. He said that the objective was to determine if “such contacts could lead to increased mutual understanding and perhaps, eventually, to improved relations.”

“These hopes were not realized, and the (authorization) was withdrawn,” he said. “We are again authorizing substantive diplomatic exchanges.”