South-U.S. working group meets

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South-U.S. working group meets

South Korea and the United States will launch a working group on coordinating North Korea’s denuclearization on Tuesday in Washington.

Lee Do-hoon, South Korea’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, held talks with Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, on Monday. The two negotiators agreed to hold the first meeting of the working group the following day, announced Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The South Korea-U.S. working group is being launched with the objective of our two countries holding regular consultations on our shared interests, including denuclearization, inter-Korean cooperation and sanctions implementation,” said Noh Kyu-duk, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, in a press briefing on Tuesday in Seoul. “Through the successful holding of its first meeting, we believe we will continue to maintain close cooperation and coordination, as we have so far, on issues related to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The U.S. State Department said through a statement on Monday that Lee and Biegun will meet Tuesday “to further strengthen our close coordination on efforts to achieve our shared goal of final, fully verified denuclearization.”

It added that they were expected to “discuss ongoing diplomatic efforts, the sustained implementation of UN sanctions, and inter-Korean cooperation.”

The South’s team, headed by Lee, will be composed of officials from the Foreign Ministry, Unification Ministry and the Blue House National Security Office. The U.S. team, headed by Biegun, was expected to include State Department, Treasury Department and White House National Security Council officials.

The consultative group is expected to play an important role in making sure that Seoul and Washington are on the same page as inter-Korean projects advance alongside the continued enforcement of sanctions on the North.

Seoul and Washington announced the working group last month. Lee kicked off a three-day trip to the United States on Monday and told reporters in Washington, “I think we will be discussing everything that needs Korea-U.S. coordination or consultation,” adding that the consultations will be “two-way.”

Discussions could include the issue of inter-Korean projects. Seoul has been aiming to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for a plan to connect and modernize the cross-border railways and roads as early as late November.

Seoul is still seeking a sanctions exemption from Washington for the launch of the inter-Korean railways and roads project. Lee said that the United States “needed time for internal review” before granting the exemption and that he hopes Washington “already had ample time for such review,” indicating optimism about Washington’s response.

“Our government maintains the fundamental position that inter-Korean cooperation will happen within the framework of North Korea sanctions,” said a senior Foreign Affairs official on Tuesday. “The joint inspection on railways and related projects are something that our special representative [Lee] will be closely cooperating on with the U.S. side through the working group.”

Washington has been adamant that it will not ease its pressure campaign on the North for the time being. On Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned a Russian-born South African national for helping North Korea evade sanctions to acquire oil a day before the working group’s launch.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Vladlen Amtchentsev for posing a secondary risk by acting on behalf of Velmur Management, a blacklisted company accused of purchasing oil and gas for North Korea.

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