Tue, Feb 19, 2019 - Page 5 News List

US blocks N Korean air revival

‘TIGHT HOLD’:The UN’s ICAO was ready to improve North Korea’s aviation system, but the US urged the agency not to help the country to keep up the pressure on Pyongyang

Reuters, MONTREAL and SEOUL

An Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft operated by Air Koryo takes off from Beijing Capital International Airport on June 20 last year.

Photo: EPA-EFE

The US has blocked efforts by a UN agency to improve civil aviation in North Korea at a time when Pyongyang is trying to reopen part of its airspace to foreign flights, three sources familiar with the matter told reporters.

The US move is part of a negotiating tactic to maintain sanctions pressure on North Korea, one of the sources said, ahead of a second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam later this month.

Washington is seeking concrete commitments from Pyongyang at the summit to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.

The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), with 192 member countries, has been working with Pyongyang to open a new air route that would pass through North and South Korean airspace.

Airlines take indirect routes to avoid North Korea due to the threat of unannounced missile launches, which have been witnessed by some passengers on commercial flights.

If the space was deemed safe, international airlines could save fuel and time on some routes between Asia and Europe and North America, and North Korea could begin reviving its own commercial aviation industry.

The cash-strapped country has a population of more than 25 million, but its economy has been squeezed by a series of sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Montreal-based ICAO was prepared to help improve North Korea’s aviation system by leading training sessions between its military and civil aviation staff, two sources said.

North Korea also asked ICAO for access to US-produced aeronautical charts, they said.

However, the US discouraged the UN agency from helping North Korea with its air program, as Washington wanted to “pool all the leverages and incentives” until Pyongyang makes substantial progress on denuclearization, a third source said.

“They would keep tight hold of all available leverage to make sure there is no loophole 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.

ICAO cannot impose binding rules on governments, but wields clout through its safety and security standards, which are approved by its member states.

Asked for comment, a US Department of State official said that it does not publicly discuss details of diplomatic conversations.

An ICAO spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The North Korean mission to the UN in New York did not respond to a request for comment and there was no immediate reaction from the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In 2017, the US proposed that the UN Security Council freeze the assets of state carrier Air Koryo, which flies to a handful of cities in China and Russia, as part of new sanctions on 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 a year in the North Korean market, according to a note from independent research firm CAPA Center for Aviation last month.

That compares with more than 13 million seats available in the South Korean market, which has about double the population, CAPA said.

The biggest beneficiaries of lifting air restrictions over North Korea would be South Korean carriers, including Korean Air Lines and Asiana Airlines Inc, CAPA said.

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