Responding to a question on whether Seoul would go ahead with the opening without obtaining an exemption from UN sanctions imposed on North Korea, the Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said, “Yes.”
“The South Korean government is pushing to open the inter-Korean liaison office without violating the purpose of sanctions against North Korea by closely consulting with the US,” Noh said at a regular briefing.
“Providing supplies, facilities and electricity for the liaison office is to ensure convenience for the operation of the office and South Korean personnel, and we believe that it does not violate the purpose of sanctions because it does not financially benefit North Korea,” he said.
A government official earlier said on condition of anonymity that it would open the office this month.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to set up a joint inter-Korean liaison office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong at the April 27 inter-Korean summit, to expand inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation.
South Korea believes that the opening of the office could foster communications to facilitate North Korea’s denuclearization, but its plan has triggered concerns that it is moving too quickly to advance inter-Korean relations without progress on North Korea’s denuclearization.
Washington has yet to publicly endorse the plan.
Mindful of such concerns, South Korea’s top diplomat said Thursday that Seoul is continuing efforts to narrow differences with Washington in their perception of inter-Korean economic cooperation.
“There is a difference in perception (between South Korea and the US,) but we are continuously communicating with the US, persuading it and consulting with it,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said at a parliamentary session.
Her remark came after the ruling Democratic Party’s Rep. Lee Soo-hyuk asked whether Washington had demanded Seoul slow down the pace of inter-Korean economic cooperation.
Amid concerns over the South Korean government’s purported lax sanctions enforcement, Kang said Wednesday that the government is reviewing the legislation of a special act to better implement UN sanctions on North Korea.
“The government is reviewing whether it is necessary to enact a special law related to the implementation of the UN sanctions resolutions on North Korea,” said Kang at Wednesday’s parliamentary session.
Her remarks came after Rep. Lee suggested that a new law or a revision to relevant laws may be needed for the tighter implementation of UN sanctions on North Korea.
Following a 10-month probe, Seoul’s tax authorities announced earlier this month that three South Korean firms had illegally imported North Korean coal that was transshipped at Russian ports, in violation of UN resolutions.
The UN Security Council passed a series of sanctions that ban North Korea from exporting coal, iron, lead and other materials, and cap imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products to force it to give up its nuclear and missile programs.
Critics accused the South Korean government of drawing out the probe, which they said reflects its reluctance to enforce sanctions amid a rare thaw in inter-Korean relations.
Despite the ongoing engagement between North Korea and the US for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the US maintains there will be no sanctions relief on North Korea until denuclearization is completed.
The US Treasury Department on Tuesday imposed sanctions against two Russian shipping firms -- Primorye Maritime Logistics and Gudzon Shipping -- suspected of transferring oil products to North Korean vessels in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
South Korea supports the US and international community in enforcing sanctions against the North, though it is pushing to expand cross-border exchanges and improve inter-Korean ties.
The enactment of a special law on sanctions implementation is not likely as the move could ruin the conciliatory mood on the Korean Peninsula, experts say.
“It would be good if such a special law could pass through the parliament, but it is likely to face strong resistance from North Korea. It would not be easy for the government to back the enactment,” said Park Won-gon, a professor at Handong Global University.