U.S. Envoy Pushes for Action Over N.Korean Coal Imports

Jay Yim, Aug. 14, 2018, 10:17 a.m.

New U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris on Monday said Washington is watching what action Seoul will take over recent illegal shipments of North Korean coal in breach of UN Security Council sanctions.

Harris was giving a lecture at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul.

"I'm aware that South Korea has investigated and will take some kind of action against those entities that are involved in that," Harris said.

"All UN member states are required to implement Security Council resolutions," he added. "Sanctions will remain in place until North Korea takes concrete and verifiable steps toward denuclearization."

Harris' remarks reflect the worries of some U.S. officials that Seoul is taking the lead in easing sanctions on North Korea. Since a tip-off from the U.S. Embassy last October about the illegal shipments, Washington has refrained from mentioning the issue directly.

Asked about the matter, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman only said South Korea is "a faithful and reliable partner in the maritime implementation of UN Security Council resolutions" and that the two countries "work closely together on North Korea issues, and remain in close contact."

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Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom on Aug. 8 accused the media of continuing "negative reports" on the issue even though Washington trusts the South Korean government.

White House national security adviser John Bolton said on Aug. 7 after a conversation with his South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong, "They've been cooperating fully with us, and they'll do what's appropriate under South Korean law, including prosecution."

But he warned the U.S. has also "looked at ways to increase enforcement of the existing sanctions, not yet putting new sanctions on but making sure the existing sanctions are not evaded."

In an interview with Voice of America the following day, Ted Poe, the chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, called for third-party sanctions even against South Korean companies if they are involved in illegal imports of North Korean coal.

Meanwhile, Harris said it is "too early" to declare a formal end to the Korean War, another issue where Washington fears Seoul is getting ahead of itself.

"With regard to the end-of-war declaration, I think it's in the early days. Yet it's too early for that even as we seek improvement in relations between the North and the South and between the North and the United States."

He reiterated Washington's position that it will be possible only if Pyongyang takes tangible measures toward denuclearization, including submitting a list of its nuclear and missile programs and a timetable on a denuclearization process.

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