Koreas' bid to reconnect rail, road links clouded by sanctions issue

S. Korean train leaves for N. Korea for rail road link ceremony

S. Korean train leaves for N. Korea for rail road link ceremony

The U.S., which holds a Security Council veto, has refused to ease the economic penalties until North Korea takes steps toward disarmament and talks between the two sides have achieved little progress.

"There's a lot of things to do before we actually start construction", South Korean Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee said before the ceremony in the city of Kaesong on the North Korean side of the border.

Despite the worldwide concerns over the North's weapons program, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have moved towards cooperation over hostility lately, with the railway representing a literal and figurative link between the nations.

Senior transport officials from Russia, China and Mongolia attended the groundbreaking, which could one day lead to a direct connection between the Korean peninsula and Europe via the Trans Siberian Railway.

"The groundbreaking ceremony is meaningful in that it demonstrates the Koreas' willingness to actively cooperate on the modernisation and connection project of their railways and roads", the South Korean transport ministry said in a statement carried by Yonhap news agency.

"Most people suspected that North Korea and the United States, also including South Korea, has a different understanding of denuclearization", he said.

Government officials and relatives separated by the 1950-53 Korean War were present at Wednesday's ceremony, along with Russian officials, China's ambassador to South Korea, and the executive secretary of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

Meanwhile, South Korea's political sphere was divided over the event. They had traveled together with unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon and the other participants from the South in a special train to North Korea.

The project is the latest in a series of moves created to improve bilateral relations agreed between the North's leader Kim Jong-un and the South Korean president Moon Jae-in, a liberal who supports engagement with Pyongyang. But followup nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled for months over the sequencing of the denuclearization that Washington wants and the removal of global sanctions desired by Pyongyang.

"The outcome of the North-South railways and roads project depends on our peoples" willpower and we can not achieve the "unified federation' we hope for if we continue to be swayed by others' opinions", he added.

The leaders of the two Koreas agreed in April to modernize and connect roads and railways across their border, a project aimed at fostering balanced development and co-prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.

South and North Korean officials sign a concrete railway tie during the ceremony. There is some momentum on easing sanctions at the United Nations, bt the USA has ruled out any such moves until North Korea fully abandons nuclear weapons.

"It is extremely regrettable that this kind of incident occurred and we will strongly urge South Korea to prevent a recurrence", the ministry said, adding that Japan is prepared to hold talks with South Korea as defense cooperation between them should not be damaged.

Such differences between Seoul and Washington are gradually narrowing down through a U.S. -ROK working group that started to discuss details last month.

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