Korea discusses sanctions exemptions with Trump gov’t

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Korea discusses sanctions exemptions with Trump gov’t

Seoul is in discussions with Washington on sanctions exemptions for North Korea to accommodate its inter-Korean roads and railways project, and the Blue House on Thursday said that it expects “good results.”

Kim Eui-kyeom, the Blue House spokesman, said in a briefing in Seoul Thursday that the South Korean government is “in close consultation with the United States” on the inter-Korean railway and road project, adding it “expects good results.”

A Washington source said, “As far as I am aware, it has become possible to hold the groundbreaking ceremony for late November or early December as planned.”

The two Koreas agreed on Monday to hold a joint ceremony in late November or early December to start work on modernizing and linking roads and railways connecting the two countries along both coastlines. Seoul has to make sure it avoids infringing upon United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions and is seeking Washington’s approval.

“South Korea-U.S. consultation and cooperation is happening around the clock,” Korean Ambassador to the United States Cho Yoon-je told reporters in Washington Wednesday, “and frank and transparent communication has enabled close consultation on North Korea policy.”

Earlier, a U.S. State Department senior official said in a statement Monday that it expects “all member states to fully implement UN sanctions, including sectoral goods banned under UN Security Council resolutions.”

The previous day, Blue House spokesman Kim addressed reports of a rift between Seoul and Washington over the road and railway project. He underscored that “South Korea and the United States are maintaining the highest level of cooperation,” including on the railway and road issue, adding that the project is “moving along as scheduled.”

The State Department’s mention of sectoral bans on the North could indicate Washington’s concern over certain banned goods entering and leaving the country.

Blue House spokesman Kim saying he expects “good results” appears to indicate that discussions between Seoul and Washington are going smoothly.

Seoul could gain Washington’s understanding through bilateral discussions and proceed with the groundbreaking ceremony. South Korea could also officially apply for exemptions through the UN Security Council’s Sanctions Committee on North Korea.

However, it would take time to get the backing of all 15 members of the council. Getting Washington’s approval could be a means of avoiding official filing with the UNSC Sanctions Committee.

A government official said, “Currently, the South and U.S. are in the discussion stage, and depending on the results of the negotiations, we may or may not seek sanctions exemptions.” However, details of the agreement are not expected to be revealed.

Washington’s support could offer a smoother process even if Seoul files for an exemption with the UNSC sanctions committee.

Furthermore, the council’s approval will also be influenced by the United States, a veto-wielding member, hence successful prior negotiations with Washington will be beneficial for Seoul.

A Foreign Ministry official said, “Depending on the negotiations with the United States, we may or may not have to seek additional [sanctions exemptions] measures.”

The South Korean government is maintaining that it will make sure that no items banned by UN Security Council resolutions aimed at curbing funding for the North’s weapons of mass destruction program will enter the country through the railway project, nor give Pyongyang any economic benefits.

BY KIM HYUN-KI, YOO JEE-HYE and SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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