North Korea pulls out of inter-Korean liaison office | 2019-03-23 |

North Korea pulls out of inter-Korean liaison office

US sanctions Chinese ships over N Korea sanctions

22nd March, 2019 09:05:40 printer

SEOUL: North Korea pulled its staff out of an inter-Korean liaison office Friday, Seoul said, weeks after leader Kim Jong Un’s summit with US President Donald Trump ended without agreement, reports AFP.

The office in the Northern city of Kaesong was opened in September as the two Koreas knitted closer ties, but the South’s vice unification minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters Pyongyang had “notified the South they are pulling out of the liaison office”.

The decision had been taken “in accordance with an order from an upper command”, he said, adding: “They said they didn’t care whether we stayed at the liaison office or not.”

The South’s President Moon Jae-in was instrumental in brokering talks between the nuclear-armed, sanctions-hit North and Washington, Seoul’s key security ally.

Moon has long backed engagement with the North to bring it to the negotiating table, and has been pushing the carrot of inter-Korean development projects, among them the restarting of an industrial zone also in Kaesong and lucrative cross-border tourist visits by Southerners to the North’s picturesque Mount Kumgang.

But the sanctions currently in place effectively block their resumption, while a preliminary study for a plan to renovate the North’s decrepit rail system was repeatedly delayed. Questions were even raised over whether supplies provided to set up the liaison office were a sanctions violation.

The failure by Kim and Trump to reach agreement in Hanoi last month on walking back Pyongyang’s nuclear programme in exchange for relaxation of the measures against it has raised questions over the future of the wider process.

In Vietnam both sides expressed willingness to talk further, but it has since emerged that Washington presented Kim with a wider definition of what it regards as denuclearisation. A senior Pyongyang diplomat told reporters last week that the North was considering suspending nuclear talks with the US.

Meanwhile, the United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on two Chinese shipping companies for doing business with North Korea, vowing to keep strictly enforcing sanctions on Pyongyang even amid top-level diplomacy. “The maritime industry must do more to stop North Korea’s illicit shipping practices,” national security adviser John Bolton tweeted after the Treasury Department’s announcement.

“Everyone should take notice and review their own activities to ensure they are not involved in North Korea’s sanctions evasion,” he said. The Treasury Department said it was blocking all potential US interests of the Dalian Haibo International Freight Co. Ltd. and prohibiting Americans from dealing with the firm.

The United States charged that the company last year shipped cargo from the Chinese port of Dalian to North Korea on behalf of the Paeksol Trading Corporation, which in the past has sold metal and coal to earn money for Pyongyang.

The Treasury Department also sanctioned the Liaoning Danxing International Forwarding Co. Ltd., saying it had assisted North Korean officials based in Europe in procuring goods for the regime.

The action comes less than a month after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Hanoi with President Donald Trump for a second summit that broke down in part over Pyongyang’s demands for immediate sanctions relief.

Trump, while walking away from the talks, has been eager to reach a potentially landmark agreement on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, announcing the latest measures, said that the United States remained committed to seeking a denuclearization deal with North Korea but believed fully enforcing UN-backed sanctions “is crucial to a successful outcome.”