No sanctions relief for inter-Korean effort

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No sanctions relief for inter-Korean effort

The United States will not lift sanctions for an inter-Korean rail project until North Korea fully gives up its nuclear weapons, the Voice of America reported on Wednesday citing an unnamed source in the State Department.

The source told VOA that Washington would not exempt Seoul from sanctions to work with Pyongyang on reconnecting the two countries’ railroads. When VOA asked the source about a South Korean lawmaker’s recent vent of frustration on U.S. sanctions, the official replied: “Sanctions will remain in place until North Korean nukes are no longer a factor.”

At question was Democratic Party Rep. Song Young-gil’s interview with The Washington Post. The lawmaker told the paper in an article about the inter-Korean rail initiative published last Saturday, “It’s so stressful that the United States is so controlling.”

In late June, the two Koreas agreed to connect their railroads and work together on modernizing the North’s infrastructure with the stated goal of “balanced development of the national economy and co-prosperity.”

But the agreement instantly raised a potent question: Is the project even possible? If South Korea were to provide cash-strapped North Korea with vehicles, machinery and other equipment for track construction, it would violate UN Security Council Resolution 2397, which prohibits the export of industrial equipment to the North.

The sanctions, passed unanimously on Dec. 22, 2017, came after the North tested an intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov. 29 of last year.

The U.S. State Department source told VOA that Washington, Seoul and Tokyo were committed to close coordination on a “unified response” to North Korea.

On talks between South Korea and China about a formal declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War, which technically ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, the source implied that a declaration could only come after North Korea’s denuclearization. The source told VOA that the United States was committed to building peace and replacing the armistice agreement when North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons.

“Our focus right now,” the source told VOA, “is on denuclearization.”

The comment is another indication of the starkly different approaches by South Korea and the United States on the denuclearization issue.

South Korea wants to declare an end to the war at the UN General Assembly in September, around the time North Korea celebrates the 70th anniversary of its founding.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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