UN exempts railway project from sanctions

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UN exempts railway project from sanctions

On Saturday, the Blue House announced that an inter-Korean railway project surveying tracks running in North Korea received sanctions exemptions from the United Nations Security Council, a major breakthrough for a cross-border initiative that’s been stalled for weeks.

The UN decision was made on Friday in New York.

Kim Eui-kyeom, spokesman for South Korea’s presidential office, said in a statement that the green light from the UN was “significant” and that the project received “acknowledgement and support from the United States and the international society.” He continued that South-North cooperation will “enter a new stage” as experts from both countries work together on a train for a long period, journeying through “all sections of North Korean railways.”

In the Pyongyang Declaration signed on Sept. 19 during South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s third summit, both countries agreed to hold a groundbreaking ceremony within the year to mark the start of a project connecting roads and railways between both countries.

In a follow-up high-level meeting, the two Koreas agreed to hold a tape-cutting ceremony between late November and early December after wrapping up a joint survey of railways running along the west coast of North Korea, which was supposed to begin in late October.

But the west coast railway survey never began, as local officials said discussions with Washington about sanctions were under way. The Trump administration is refusing to lift any sanctions on the Kim Jong-un regime until the nation carries out fully verified denuclearization, known shortly as FFVD, and warned Seoul not to undermine that goal with inter-Korean cooperation.

It has been hard to know exactly which UN sanctions Seoul was trying to receive a waiver on. Blue House spokesman Kim did not elaborate on the subject in his Saturday statement, but local officials say Seoul asked the UN Security Council for permission to deliver fuel and other equipment to North Korea for the project.

Unanimous approval from a UN North Korean sanctions committee composed of five permanent members and 10 non-permanent members on the UN Security Council was required for the sanctions waiver.

An official from the South’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, said on Sunday that Seoul expected the joint survey to begin this week.

A Blue House official credited the UN sanctions waiver to a newly established working group set up by Seoul and Washington on Pyongyang’s denuclearization, saying the top item in last week’s working group meeting’s agenda was the inter-Korean railway survey. “Deep discussions” on the matter led the United States to finally give approval, the source said.

Seoul’s emphasis on the role of the working group in getting the United States’ final approval appears to be an effort to mollify Pyongyang, which berated the group earlier this month in its media.

Uriminzokkiri, a North Korean propaganda website aimed at foreign readers, called Washington “arrogant” for trying to sabotage efforts between both Koreas to achieve peace and prosperity, while calling Seoul “disgraceful” for letting the United States interfere in South-North relations.

A high-level diplomatic source in Washington with knowledge of North-U.S. dialogue told the JoongAng Ilbo that Pyongyang has yet to respond to calls from the White House to hold a high-level meeting around Tuesday and Wednesday. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the White House will probably try to reschedule a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korea’s Kim Yong-chol after the G-20 Summit in Argentina on Dec. 1.

Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, was originally planned to meet Pompeo in New York on Nov. 8, before the North canceled the meeting a day before it was to be held.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the North apparently canceled “because they weren’t ready.” North Korean experts surmise that the regime could be mulling what next steps it could take for denuclearization. The United States has been demanding a complete inventory of its nuclear stockpile, something the North said it wasn’t ready to submit.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, JUNG HYO-SIK [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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