South Korea’s justification for a transfer of over three hundred tons of petroleum products to North Korea in 2018 was dismissed by the United Nations Panel of Experts in an annual report published on Tuesday.
The export of the petroleum – subject to strict UN regulations and reporting requirements – was last year authorized by Seoul despite the U.S. warning in September that Pyongyang had exceeded “four times the annual quota” of allowed petroleum imports in the first eight months of 2018 alone.
Asked by the Panel to explain 2018 media reports on the “transfer of petroleum products to Kaesong” – which NK News showed in January had not been reported in accordance with UN Security Council rules – South Korea justified the exports due to how the fuel had been used in the North.
“In the process of carrying out the [inter-Korean] projects, the ROK personnel used the petroleum products exclusively for the implementation of the projects, while ensuring that no transfer of economic values to the DPRK occurs,” South Korean authorities responded to the Panel’s request for explanation.
But that didn’t justify South Korea’s failure to report the transfers to the UN’s 1718 Committee, which is tasked with collecting data on petroleum transfers every 30 days from UN member states to North Korea.
“The Panel notes that the specific language of paragraph 5 of resolution 2397 (2017) requiring Member States to notify the Committee of any transfer to the DPRK of refined petroleum products is by territory as opposed to possession and does not differentiate between temporary and permanent transfers, or under whose control the items will be after transfer.”
As a result, even though South Korea’s export of fuel products did not transfer “economic values to the DPRK,” Seoul’s failure to report the transfers was inconsistent with Security Council requirements.
Nevertheless, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) told NK News in January that it “maintained a close coordination with the U.S. and the international community in this process,” and that “inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation projects (took place) in accordance with the framework of sanctions against DPRK.”
But asked three times by NK News about why the Panel had to ask South Korea to explain media reports on the unreported petroleum transfers, MOFA declined to provide an answer as of Wednesday.
The Panel’s interpretation that a “transfer” is “by territory as opposed to possession…and does not differentiate between temporary and permanent” could, however, have additional ramifications for other inter-Korean activities which took place absent sanctions exemptions last year.
When asked by Reuters to explain why Seoul authorized the transfer of one million dollars of construction equipment and material specifically sanctioned by the UN for its Kaesong liaison office, a MOFA spokesperson used a similar logic last year.
“It does not give any economic gain to North Korea, so we are concluding that it does not damage the objective of the sanctions,” a MOFA spokesperson said about why South Korea had not sought UN sanctions exemptions for the transfer.
But since the creation of the U.S.-ROK Working Group last fall – a forum where inter-Korean activities are often discussed among the allies – Seoul has been much more careful in seeking UN sanctions exemptions.
That has, however, meant that for direct or indirect reasons some inter-Korean projects have been highly delayed or effectively abandoned, which has resulted in public North Korean criticism of South Korea’s stance on sanctions.
This may explain the approach with the Kaesong liaison office last year, where NK News understands from multiple informed sources that South Korea chose to overlook certain sanctions rules in order to avoid delays in an area that had a low risk of subsequent punishment.
“The Moon administration seems to be sliding the thin end of the wedge into Kaesong to establish a precedent for a more substantial, long-term practice of violating the sanctions,” said North Korea sanctions blogger Joshua Stanton in January about Seoul’s export of petroleum products.
“The amount isn’t the problem; the precedent is.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA
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