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South will send North Tamiflu next week

Gov’t source says U.S. delayed shipment over sanctions concerns
Jan 26,2019
South Korea will send shipments of the antiviral medication Tamiflu to the North once the two sides agree on a delivery date next week, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

Earlier this month, the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Council set aside around 3.56 billion won ($3.1 million) to ship around 200,000 doses of Tamiflu to the North along with 50,000 first aid kits by Jan. 11.

That shipment, however, was delayed for weeks due to “technical and practical issues,” according to the Unification Ministry. Seoul had said earlier that the medicine would be sent via a land route to the North on the western coast.

But according to a government source who talked to the JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday, the real reason behind the delay was opposition from the United States. Washington reportedly took issue with the shipment due to its possible violation of international sanctions on the North.

Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun denied the report on Wednesday, saying that the drug shipment is a humanitarian issue that the United States had a “positive stance” on. The matter was first coordinated with the United States through working-level talks in December, likely referring to discussions between Stephen Biegun and Lee Do-hoon, Washington and Seoul’s special representatives on North Korea.

While the United States apparently did not object to Seoul’s aid project itself in ongoing talks, it did challenge the use of cargo trucks to transfer the medicine to the North, according to the Seoul government source.

The latest working-group discussions from Jan. 19 to Tuesday between Seoul and Washington have, however, brought progress on the humanitarian front. Biegun reportedly took a more optimistic stance towards the medicinal aid project as well as an inter-Korean initiative to connect the peninsula’s railways and roads. If delivered, the shipment of Tamiflu will be the first medical humanitarian aid sent by the South Korean government to the North in nearly a decade. The last time Seoul shipped Tamiflu to the North was in 2009, when it sent 400,000 doses of Tamiflu and 100,000 doses of Relenza, another flu medication, via a land route on the western coast.

Recent progress in talks between Washington and Pyongyang ahead of a second summit between their leaders scheduled for February may have breathed new life into inter-Korean cooperation, which had been blocked from moving beyond symbolic gestures like a railway groundbreaking ceremony at the end of last year.

According to the Unification Ministry on Thursday, the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Council, its group of government and civilian officials tasked with reviewing joint projects with the North, approved a 28.3 billion won budget for six joint initiatives. One of those plans includes funding for a foundation to support South Korean companies that used to operate factories in the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the largest single joint economic project between the two Koreas, until it was shut down in 2016.

Seoul is currently trying to coordinate a visit to Kaesong by the executives of these companies as part of a plan to reopen the industrial park if sanctions on the North are loosened.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]