Seoul's plan for liaison office in North shows up fissures with US

The inter-Korea office slated to open in August 2018 at the Gaeseong complex may violate United Nations and United States sanctions.
The inter-Korea office slated to open in August 2018 at the Gaeseong complex may violate United Nations and United States sanctions.PHOTO: GOOGLE MAPS

SEOUL • South Korea's plan to set up a liaison office at an industrial park it sponsors in North Korea is underscoring differences between Seoul and Washington over the pace of rapprochement with Mr Kim Jong Un's regime.

The inter-Korea office slated to open this month at the Gaeseong complex may violate United Nations and United States sanctions, South Korea's Chosun newspaper reported yesterday, citing an unidentified American official.

A State Department spokesman later told Bloomberg News that improvements in ties between the two Koreas must occur "in lockstep" with progress on eliminating Mr Kim's nuclear arsenal, without saying if the office would violate sanctions.

The liaison office is among several initiatives supported by South Korean President Moon Jae-in - including reunions this week between families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War - as he attempts to build on his landmark April agreement with Mr Kim.

Nuclear talks have slowed as North Korea pushes for more tangible steps to improve ties by South Korea and the US as a condition for weapons concessions.

Moon spokesman Kim Eui-keum yesterday rejected the suggestion that establishing the liaison office would violate sanctions.

He said the facility was among the provisions affirmed by US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader at their summit in June in Singapore. "It's wrong to view the issue of the inter-Korea liaison office as a violation of sanctions," he told reporters in Seoul. "This is not to provide North Korea with any economic gains."

The issue has emerged as the region prepares for a new diplomatic flurry aimed at resolving the dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons, with Chinese President Xi Jinping considering a trip to Pyongyang next month, The Straits Times reported last Saturday.

Meanwhile, Mr Moon planned his own visit to the North Korean capital - the first by a South Korean leader in 11 years.

Mr Moon must strike a difficult balance with Mr Kim Jong Un amid US pressure to maintain sanctions against the regime. At the same time, a commentary published yesterday by the state-run Korean Central News Agency criticised what it said was a lack of consistency by South Korea and argued that peace could only be achieved "without the help of outside forces".

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2018, with the headline 'Seoul's plan for liaison office in North shows up fissures with US'. Print Edition | Subscribe