The Trump administration reportedly told the South Korean government that it is opposed to the opening of an inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, saying that it might violate United Nations and U.S. sanctions. Although South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said setting up a liaison office is not a violation of the sanctions and it is consulting with Washington on the matter, there seems to be discord between the two countries over the issue. Concerns are rising that setting up an inter-Korean liaison office could undermine cooperation between South Korea and the United States ahead of the denuclearization negotiations scheduled in September in Pyongyang.
“The opening of an inter-Korean liaison office is not a violation of the sanctions. To my knowledge, the United States has expressed its understanding on the matter,” said Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom during a regular briefing on Monday. "The purpose of opening an inter-Korean liaison office is to help speed up the negotiation process for denuclearization."
Multiple government officials, however, say otherwise. They say the United States has consistently opposed the opening of an inter-Korean liaison office. “There have been one-off events, such as art performances or sports games that got an exemption from United States sanctions, but allowing a liaison office is like giving a permanent exemption,” a government official said. “Washington is reluctant to set a precedent for permanent exemptions regardless of their scale.”
“It was more like a warning message not to rush toward rapprochement with North Korea when there is no progress on denuclearization,” one government official said. “After the opening ceremony of the liaison office, there will likely be tangible results in inter-Korean relations. The United States is uncomfortable with possible weakening of the leverage in negotiation amid little progress in the nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea,” another government official said. The South Korean government reportedly could not request sanctions exemption to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea after failing to persuade the United States.
The situation has gotten even more complicated as South Korea-U.S. fissures grew over the liaison office when the two already had divided views on economic cooperation between the two Koreas and declaration of the end of the Korean War. Some say South Korea is pushing toward opening of the liaison office despite opposition from the United States, resisting possible U.S. intervention in inter-Korean relations. South Korea will supply operating expenses, equipment, medicine, and foods for about 60 North and South Korean staff working at the liaison office. “The support made by South Korea is only for the activities and convenience for South Korean representatives,” said the presidential spokesperson. "This is not to provide North Korea with any economic gains."
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