Business owners beg Trump to let Kaesong reopen

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Business owners beg Trump to let Kaesong reopen

South Korean businesses at the Kaesong Industrial Complex petitioned U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday to exempt the inter-Korean economic cooperation project from sanctions, days after their earlier request was turned down by the U.S. State Department.

Around 30 members of a group representing the South’s firms in the Kaesong Industrial Complex held a public press conference in front of the U.S. embassy in Seoul on Monday morning, calling on Trump to exclude the two Koreas’ most prominent economic cooperation zone from the international sanctions regime.

“The Kaesong Industrial Complex is unable to serve its role as a catalyst for improving inter-Korean ties due to sanctions by the United Nations [UN] and the United States,” said one of the organization’s leaders. “The complex must be designated as an exception from the sanctions on the North so that it can play a role in priming inter-Korean relations and denuclearization forward.”

After saying they were languishing in a “desperate situation” that has claimed at least one business owner’s life, the group then submitted a petition letter addressed to Trump to an embassy employee. A previous letter from the organization sent to Trump last Thursday said that the continued inactivity of the complex was hurting “the livelihoods of 200,000 people in the South and North,” since it is home to “around 200 firms and 55,000 workers” from both Koreas.

According to a Voice of America report, that earlier petition was rebuffed by the U.S. State Department on Friday. A U.S. official cited by the report said that Washington “expects all member states to fully implement UN sanctions.” The official, who said the sanctions would remain in place until the North denuclearizes, went on to cite a quote from South Korean President Moon Jae-in that “the improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot advance separately from resolving North Korea’s nuclear program,” to substantiate Washington’s current position on economic engagement with the North.

The pressure campaign by Seoul, Washington and Tokyo is meant to “fully and effectively” ensure all obligations listed in the UN resolutions against the North are implemented, the official added. This includes further restrictions on “the revenue sources for the DPRK’s weapons programs, particularly illicit activities” and addressing “the deplorable human rights conditions in the DPRK.” The DPRK is an acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea.

Inter-Korean economic cooperation remains a sticking point in Seoul and Washington’s divergent approaches to dealing with the North. South Korea insists that partial sanctions relief for Kaesong and the tour program at Mount Kumgang could expedite the North’s denuclearization.

The United States, however, has remained adamantly opposed to any exceptions to the economic sanctions on the North in the belief that a choke hold on the country’s economy could force it to yield first on denuclearization, and the North could then be rewarded with economic engagement.

The issue is likely to be at the top of the agenda at the upcoming summit between Moon and Trump on Thursday, amid a protracted stalemate in the negotiations between the United States and North Korea that has left some even in Washington doubting the Trump administration’s all-in-one approach to the North’s nukes.

In an interview with CBS on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded to a question about South Korea’s push for partial sanctions relief in inter-Korean projects with a tone of relative sympathy that departed from the reported irritation that U.S. officials have recently shown on Seoul’s position.

“I understand the sentiment, but they’ve been great partners, and we have worked closely together to enforce these sanctions,” Pompeo said. “We appreciate what they’re doing.”

The chief U.S. diplomat also added that diplomatic channels remained open between the United States and the North, and that Washington would be watching “very closely” Kim’s address to his people next week, when Pyongyang is due to hold its first plenary session with the newly-elected deputies of its rubber stamp legislature, the Supreme People’s Assembly.

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