Tue, Jun 04, 2019 - Page 6 News List

UN delays program to curb North Korean missile tests

WASHINGTON’S WORRIES:The ICAO had planned to conduct its first aviation safety audit in North Korea in more than a decade and offer a military/civilian workshop

Reuters, MONTREAL, SEOUL and NEW YORK

A UN agency’s bid to curb North Korea’s missile program with an airspace safety audit and at the same time revive its air traffic has been delayed amid US concerns that it may breach UN sanctions, sources familiar with the matter told reporters.

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

The UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) last year met North Korean officials to discuss Pyongyang’s hopes for a new route that would pass through South Korean airspace following a dramatic detente between the two sides.

ICAO had planned to conduct its first aviation safety audit in North Korea in more than a decade this year, but it has been delayed until next year amid US concerns that it could include sharing technology that could also be used to advance North Korea’s weapons programs, the sources said.

All of the sources spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.

“They’re concerned because it involves technology that could possibly be diverted for military purposes, unlike humanitarian aid that would be exempted from sanctions more easily,” one of the sources said.

ICAO spokesman Anthony Philbin on Friday confirmed the postponement.

“Multilateral assistance and capacity-building activities always require a significant amount of negotiation and advance consultation,” he said.

The audit and a separate joint military and civilian workshop, which was initially due for September, were designed to curb Pyongyang’s long-standing practice of carrying out missile tests without prior notice, a second source said.

However, those efforts faced pushback not just from the US, but also some other UN member nations, including Japan, over whose territory North Korea has test-fired missiles in the past, a third source said.

Ahead of the Hanoi summit, ICAO informed a UN Security Council panel overseeing the enforcement of the sanctions that its planned workshop would not contravene the UN sanctions, according to a letter seen by reporters.

However, on March 12, days after the Hanoi summit collapsed, the US told the committee that it disagreed with ICAO’s view.

“This training is subject to [sanctions] because it is technical cooperation on aerospace and aeronautical engineering and technology and therefore requires the committee to review it on a case-by-case basis,” the US told the panel.

ICAO’s 36-member governing council last month agreed to put off an exemption request for the workshop in Pyongyang, which would promote civil and military cooperation on aviation safety and airspace management.

The Montreal-based ICAO cannot impose rules on governments, but wields clout through its safety and security standards which are approved by its 193 member states.

“We are being very cautious, especially since the missile tests restarted [last month],” said a fourth source, who is a non-US representative at ICAO.

Some officials in South Korea, which often trains developing countries on aviation safety as part of its humanitarian aid programs, were initially cautiously optimistic over ICAO’s plans.

“We’re in an extremely sensitive situation,” a South Korean official said. “It was evident that there are worries about sanctions, and we can’t afford violating them.”

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