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(LEAD) Way to prevent bulk-cash inflow needed to reopen Kaesong complex: Seoul official

All Headlines 15:04 January 11, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 6, 12)

SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- A senior official at South Korea's foreign ministry has raised the need to find a way to prevent any flow of "bulk cash" into North Korea for the resumption of the inter-Korean industrial complex and tours to a mountain resort in the communist state.

The official pointed to international sanctions, including a ban on lump sum cash payments that could be channeled into the North's nuclear program, as a key hurdle to restarting stalled inter-Korean cooperation projects.

In his New Year's address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un voiced his willingness to reopen the industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong and restart tours to Mount Kumgang on the North's east coast "without any preconditions."

"(In my personal opinion), to enable the resumption of the Kaesong complex, we need to find a way to prevent the supply of bulk cash (to the North) so that we can get an exemption from (U.N. Security Council) sanctions," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity Thursday.

"It is evident that (restarting the complex and tours) is Chairman Kim's priority, but it is not an easy task given the current framework of the sanctions regime. ... There will be difficulties ahead in the process of securing an exemption from the sanctions," the official added.

Speculation has emerged that the two Koreas might seek a creative way to bypass sanctions, such as paying the wages of North Korean workers at the Kaesong complex in kind.

The official noted that resuming the tourism project may be relatively easier than a restart of the industrial complex.

Asked whether the U.S. would use the resumption of the stalled projects as a bargaining chip in its nuclear negotiations with the North, the official said, "A deal may be possible, but many tasks may lie ahead."

The industrial complex, a symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation and an important source of foreign currency for the cash-strapped North, was shut down in February 2016, after Pyongyang's fourth nuclear and missile tests.

The tour program to the scenic mountain has been suspended since a female South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier there for allegedly trespassing into an off-limits area in July 2008.

Pyongyang has been eager to resume the two projects after its leader Kim announced a major strategic policy shift toward economic development last year as part of efforts to shore up the country's threadbare economy and enhance public support.

The North Korean leader's New Year's speech underscored his wish for economic reconstruction through sanctions relief and inter-Korean exchanges.

This image, provided by Yonhap News TV, depicts inter-Korean cooperation projects. (Yonhap)

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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