MONTREAL / SEOUL (Reuters) – The United States has blocked the efforts of a UN agency to improve civil aviation in North Korea at a time when Pyongyang is trying to reopen part of its airspace for international flights, three of which are familiar with the matter Sources told Reuters.
FILE PHOTO – US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet at the beginning of their summit at the Capella Hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, Singapore, June 12, 2018. REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst
The USA Movement is part of a negotiating tactic to maintain pressure on sanctions against North Korea, sources said, before a second summit between President Donald Trump and chairman Kim Jong Un took place in Vietnam at the end of February.
Washington demands concrete commitments at the Pyongyang summit to end its nuclear and missile programs.
The United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), with 192 member states, has teamed with Pyongyang to open a new route to cross the North and South Korean airspace.
Airlines are currently taking indirect routes to avoid North Korea due to the threat of unannounced rocket launches seen by some passengers on commercial flights.
If the space is considered safe, international airlines could save fuel and time on some routes between Asia, Europe, and North America, and North Korea could begin to revive its own commercial aviation industry.
The country with the shortage has more than 25 million inhabitants, but its economy has been pushed by a series of sanctions for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The Montreal-based ICAO was ready to help improve the North Korean aviation system by providing training between military and civil aviation personnel, sources said.
North Korea also asked ICAO for access to US-made aeronautical charts.
US SEEKS LEVERAGE
But the United States discouraged the US agency to help North Korea with its air program as Washington "wanted to pool all leverage and incentives" until Pyongyang made significant progress in denuclearization, a third said Source.
"They would keep all available levers tight to make sure there is no gap until the North Koreans take action that deserves a reward," the source said.
All sources spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
The ICAO can not impose any binding rules on governments, but it is effective through its security standards approved by its member states.
Asked for a comment, a US State Department official said he did not discuss details of the diplomatic talks publicly. An ICAO spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The North Korean Mission to the United Nations in New York did not respond to a request for comment, and the South Korean Foreign Ministry did not react immediately.
The United States proposed in 2017 that the US Security Council would freeze the assets of air carrier Air Koryo, which is serving a handful of cities in China and Russia under new sanctions against Pyongyang. The measure was dropped during negotiations between the 15 members.
Airlines, including Air Koryo and Air China Ltd, offer less than 200,000 available seats per year on the North Korean market, according to a report from independent research firm CAPA Center for Aviation in January.
This compares to more than 13 million seats in the South Korean market, which roughly doubles the population, CAPA said.
The biggest beneficiaries of North Korea's lifting of air restrictions, according to CAPA, are South Korean airlines such as Korean Air Lines and Asiana Airlines Inc ..
The United States has doubly doubled its sanctions enforcement ahead of the planned second summit. Pongyang is not committed to denuclearization, although Washington pledged to ease some humanitarian aid regulations.
Meanwhile, South and North Korea have rapidly developed relations, which is why US officials openly warn against going too fast without sufficient progress in denuclearization.
A fourth source told Reuters that the US move to ease humanitarian aid should placate South Korea. Some complaints are that Washington is not willing to compromise.
"However, they made it clear that there will be no relief for economic sanctions until they see significant progress," said the source, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Coverage of Allison Lampert in Montreal and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul. Additional reporting by Jamie Freed in Singapore, David Shepardson in Washington, and Michelle Nichols in New York; Editors: Tracy Rucinski and Lincoln Feast