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Kaesong liaison office is legal, Seoul insists

Aug 21,2018
The Blue House said Monday the opening of an inter-Korean liaison office in the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex would not violate international sanctions on North Korea, stressing its purpose was to ease military tensions and help peace on the peninsula.

The announcement came after an unnamed U.S. official was quoted as saying by the Chosun Ilbo Monday that setting up the communications office could “risk violating sanctions that have drawn North Korea back to the negotiating table,” a remark that could be seen as a gap in perceptions by Seoul and Washington on the liaison office, which is expected to be opened in the coming days.

“The government has concluded that setting up the liaison office would not be in violation of international sanctions,” said Kim Eui-kyeom, the Blue House spokesman, at a press briefing Monday.

“First, its establishment is a fundamental step toward easing military tensions and helping setting in place a peace regime in the region. Second, it is for maintaining inter-Korean communication, which will help facilitate North-U.S. denuclearization talks,” emphasized Kim.

He went on to note that strict sanctions on the North were imposed to rid it of nuclear weapons, a goal that is shared by the South and should be furthered by the liaison office.

The official also noted that all equipment and funds going into the liaison office will have the sole purpose of facilitating the South Korean government’s communication with North Korea, and not directly benefit the Kim Jong-un regime financially in violation of United Nations sanctions.

The spokesman said the setting up of the Kaesong liaison office was part of the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration, the product of President Moon Jae-in’s first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the spirit of which was also “reflected” in the June 12 joint agreement between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.

“I think that a perspective that sees the operation of a liaison office as violating sanctions on the North is wrong,” he said, adding Seoul had been “closely consulting” with Washington on the matter.

The Blue House did not consider the U.S. official’s quoted remark as the official stance of the Trump administration, Kim continued.

“It is my knowledge that the United States expressed its understanding [of the South’s stance],” he said.

In the Chosun report, the unnamed official noted that running the joint liaison office could put the United States “in a difficult situation” without elaborating further.

Neither an organization nor the rank of the quoted official was reported.

Under the United Nations Resolution 2375, adopted unanimously by the United Nations Security Council on Sept. 11, 2017, in response to the North’s sixth nuclear test, the “opening, maintenance, and operation of all joint ventures or cooperative entities, new and existing” with North Korea are prohibited unless such joint ventures are “non-commercial” and “public utility infrastructure projects not generating profit” that have been “approved by the Committee in advance on a case-by-case basis.”

It aimed at cutting foreign cash flowing into the North Korean regime from such joint ventures that could be spent on long-range missile and nuclear development.

The Blue House has put a special meaning on the opening of the Kaesong liaison office, stressing its potential to become a “permanent mission” for the two Koreas.

In his Liberation Day speech last Wednesday, President Moon remarked it would be “very meaningful” to have the liaison office running to usher in an “era in which the two Koreas communicate with each other around the clock.”

In an interview with ABC that aired Sunday, John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, said that Kim had already agreed to denuclearize within a one-year period during his meeting with President Moon on April 27.

Bolton said at the Panmunjom summit, President Moon “pointed out that the more rapidly North Korea denuclearizes, they sooner could come the benefits of openness” from the international community.

“President Moon said let’s get this done in a year,” Bolton noted in the interview, to which Kim “said yes.”

“So the one-year period that we’ve talked about from the point where North Korea makes the strategic decision to denuclearize is something that the North and South Koreans have already agreed to,” he emphasized.

The Blue House declined to comment on Moon’s reported one-year timeline remark.

On U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s fourth visit to Pyongyang, the North Korea hard-liner said he would be “returning to Pyongyang soon” and the White House expected him to meet with North Korean leader Kim this time. Kim did not meet the top U.S. diplomat on his third visit to Pyongyang in early July.

Bolton emphasized it “remains our highest priority” for the North to “move on with the process of denuclearization.”

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]