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SEOUL, Nov. 28 (Yonhap) -- A senior U.S. diplomat said Wednesday that the international community is not prepared for significantly lifting sanctions for a railway network linking North Korea until the communist state's "final, fully verified denuclearization (FFVD)."
Marc Knapper, acting deputy assistant secretary at U.S. State Department, made the remarks during a peace forum in Seoul, as South Korea is seeking to launch a joint railway field study with Pyongyang for the network across their heavily fortified border.
"To us, this bright future (for North Koreans) includes many different things ... it especially includes helping North Korea to integrate with the rest of the international community. Of course, part of this integration could include strengthening rail connection through the region," he said.
"But I think the international community has made very clear that this kind of concrete progress will not occur absent real progress on denuclearization," he added.
The American diplomat went on to say that the establishment of the railway network would require "significant lifting of sanctions," which he noted the rest of the international community is not prepared to do until FFVD.
Last week, the U.N. Security Council granted a sanctions exemption to enable the two Koreas to conduct a survey on the railway connection, a decision which analysts said appears to have been made possible with U.S. diplomatic support.
But Knapper's remarks on Wednesday were seen as indicating Washington's reluctance to see too much progress in inter-Korean cooperation projects amid a lack of substantive headway toward the North's denuclearization.
Seoul has been pushing for a series of cross-border cooperative projects in various fields. Among them is a comprehensive scheme to reduce military tensions and build trust, which includes a number of conventional arms control measures.
It believes such cooperation will help catalyze ongoing efforts to denuclearize the North and foster a lasting peace regime on the peninsula.
The allies have recently launched a joint working group to synchronize their approaches on the North's denuclearization, sanctions enforcement and inter-Korean cooperation amid rumors about fissures in the allies' policy coordination.
Meanwhile, Knapper told the forum that Washington's drive for a "free, open Indo-Pacific" region and Seoul's New Southern Policy initiative can work together complementarily as they both seek to deepen ties with Southeast Asian countries.
"We believe they complement each other in many ways. First of all, the two countries share many values, democratic values, promotion of free and fair trade, promotion of human rights and the rule of law," he said.
"We believe that the U.S. and the Republic of Korea are well positioned as allies, partners and friends to be able to work together to find areas of cooperation in things like energy infrastructure and things like promoting access to clean water, electrification," he added.
Under the New Southern Policy drive, Seoul has been seeking to expand ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a crucial partner given its growth potential, rich resources and growing diplomatic influence.
Knapper told reporters on the sidelines of the forum that the U.S. hasn't heard anything from the North yet regarding the prospect of their high-level talks.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had planned to hold talks with Kim Yong-chol, a top aide to the North's leader, in New York earlier this month. But the meeting was indefinitely postponed, reportedly at Pyongyang's request.
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