South Korea is pushing a series of economic undertakings with North Korea with the goal of improving inter-Korean relations, according to analysts, while Washington is stressing the need for continuing the maximum-pressure campaign of international sanctions on Pyongyang, VOA reported.
Last week, in a lively televised speech, South Korean President Moon Jae-in called the nation’s attention to the government’s plans to improve relations with the North through reconciliation and economic projects.
“Developments in inter-Korean relations are not the by-effects of progress in the relationship between the North and the United States,” Moon said. “Rather, advancement in inter-Korean relations is the driving force behind denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Earlier this month, the two Koreas agreed to hold their third summit in Pyongyang next month to discuss inter-Korean cooperation further. No date has been set.
However, the US remains cautious, and in response to the upcoming summit, the State Department said the progress of inter-Korean developments should be tied to denuclearization.
“As President Moon stated, the improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot advance separately from resolving North Korea’s nuclear program,” said a State Department official in an email message to VOA’s Korean Service.
Sanctioned material sent to North
The United States is pressing North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, calling for stringent implementation of tough US and UN sanctions.
But at the same time, its ally, South Korea, is trying to increase cooperation with its old rival.
According to customs data released by opposition lawmaker Cheong Yang-seog on Friday, South Korea has sent one billion won ($893,239.96) worth of sanctioned material to North Korea, raising concern that ties with the United States could be damaged as the South pursues cooperation with the North, Reuters reported.
South Korea transferred about 113 tons of materials and equipment including steel, copper, nickel and water heaters to North Korea in June and July, the customs data showed.
The material and equipment identified in the data are banned from being exported to North Korea under UN Security Council Resolution 2397, Cheong's office said.
The Korea Customs Service declined to comment on the data, directing inquiries to another ministry that handles inter-Korean relations. It also declined to comment.
A South Korean Foreign Ministry official also declined to comment on the customs data, but said materials and equipment are being sent for a liaison office that South Korea is building just over the border in North Korea, as part of efforts championed by President Moon to improve ties.
"All the material, equipment and electricity are for the office's operation and to ensure the convenience of our personnel," said the ministry official.
"It does not give any economic gain to North Korea, so we are concluding that it does not damage the objective of the sanctions."
Moon is committed to securing diplomatic progress with North Korea, in part by opening this year the office in Kaesong, on the North Korea side of the border.
Cheong was not available for comment but he has been raising objections to the lack of information on the amount of money the government has been spending on the liaison office.
He and other opposition politicians have raised concern that the transfer of material for the office could violate UN and US sanctions against North Korea.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed in broad terms to work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a summit with US President Donald Trump in June.
But there has been no indication that North Korea had stopped its nuclear activities, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report on Monday.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to visit North Korea next week.