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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 9)

All News 07:08 August 09, 2018

Lukewarm response
There should no holes in sanctions against N. Korea

The Moon Jae-in administration has come under attack for its lukewarm response to allegations that North Korea exported coal to South Korea after transshipping it at a Russian port. Regrettably, however, the government has yet to confirm these allegations.

Of course, it is not easy to identify the origin of the imported coal. But it is hard to understand why officials have continued to say that they are in the process of conducting an investigation. The probe has been underway for 10 months since Seoul received tips from the United States that some vessels transshipped coal, which appeared to originate from North Korea, in the Russian port and brought it to South Korea.

The Moon government should explain why it is taking so long to investigate the coal imports. Its inability to do so has only raised questions about its determination to strictly enforce the international sanctions against the North for a nuclear test and missile launches last year.

Critics are even accusing the government of trying to cover up the case in a bid to appease the Kim Jong-un regime to keep the momentum for inter-Korean detente and the denuclearization and peace process. We don't want to see such an accusation turn out to be true. But if that is the case, it could seriously undermine the international efforts to enforce the sanctions. It could also derail ongoing negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang over how to denuclearize the North.

On Wednesday, the presidential office refuted some media reports about the government's alleged mishandling of the North Korean coal imports by saying that the U.S. has not complained about the South's response to the issue. It even quoted the U.S. Department of State as saying that Washington trusts the Seoul government.

It is good to see that there is no conflict between the two allies over the coal issue. Seoul and Washington should not play into the hands of the Kim regime which is apparently trying to ease or lift the U.N. sanctions even before the North starts the denuclearization process.

What's imperative now is for the two allies to keep the sanctions firmly in place. The government should make all-out efforts to speed up the investigation to clear itself of any suspicions of connivance in or overlooking of the imports of North Korean coal.

The number of vessels suspected of carrying the coal to South Korean ports has increased to eight, including the Belize-flagged Jin Long, the Sierra Leone-registered Rich Glory and the Panama-registered Sky Angel. The ships have visited the South more than 52 times since August 2017 when the U.N Security Council Resolution 2371 was adopted to ban the North from exporting coal, iron, lead and other minerals.

Now, the Moon administration has to prove that it has done its best to implement the sanctions strictly and faithfully; or it will lose credibility for its engagement policy toward the North.

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