Two Koreas discuss date for joint railway survey this week


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South Korea has proposed to North Korea that the two countries begin a joint railway inspection by the end of this week, the South’s Ministry of Unification said Monday.

“(The ministry) has acknowledged that there are ongoing discussions (regarding the joint survey on cross-border railways) this week,” Baik Tae-hyun, a ministry spokesman, told a regular press briefing.
 

A test-operation of a train on a section of a cross-border railway running through the west coast of the Korean Peninsula in 2007. (Yonhap)

On the question of whether the South has proposed a date to the North for the survey, Baik simply replied “yes.” He added that the schedule for the survey will have to be settled before discussing with the United Nations Command plans of carrying out the actual test-run of a train across the inter-Korean border.

In August, the US-led UNC disapproved of a plan to test-run a train on a section of a western railway connecting Seoul in South Korea to Sinuiju in North Korea via the North’s border town of Kaesong, citing procedural problems. But the move was viewed as stemming from US concerns that inter-Korean projects were not in tandem with progress in US-North Korea denuclearization talks.

This time, Seoul will have to meet the UNC guideline of providing relevant notifications and documents 48 hours in advance.

The outlook for the joint survey looked bleak until Cheong Wa Dae announced Saturday that the survey received sanctions exemptions from the UN Security Council. The US has expressed “strong support” for the joint survey, according to Lee Do-hoon, Seoul’s top nuclear envoy, who recently attended a working group meeting with the US.

But experts advised caution, saying that the latest sanctions exemptions does not translate to US support of the entire railway project, and stressing that the survey itself is not subject to UN resolutions.

The Koreas are behind schedule regarding the railway project as they had initially planned to begin a field survey in late October so that they could hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the project either in late November or early December. Seoul now aims to hold the groundbreaking ceremony before the end of the year.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)


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