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North Korea air traffic blocked by US ahead of Trump summit: Report

Montreal/Seoul: The United States has blocked efforts by a UN agency to improve civil aviation in North Korea at a time when Pyongyang is trying to reopen part of its airspace to foreign flights, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The US move is part of a negotiating tactic to maintain sanctions pressure on North Korea, one of the sources said, ahead of a second summit between President Donald Trump and leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam in late February.

 

Washington is seeking concrete commitments from Pyongyang at the summit to abandon its nuclear and missile programmes.

The United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), with 192 member countries, has been working with Pyongyang to open a new air route that would pass through North and South Korean airspace.

Airlines currently take indirect routings to avoid North Korea due to the threat of unannounced missile launches, which have been witnessed by some passengers on commercial flights.

If the space was deemed safe, international airlines could save fuel and time on some routes between Asia and Europe and North America, and North Korea could begin reviving its own commercial aviation industry.

The cash-strapped country has a population of more than 25 million but its economy has been squeezed by a series of sanctions for its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

Montreal-based ICAO was prepared to help improve North Korea’s aviation system by leading training sessions between its military and civil aviation staff, two sources said.

North Korea also asked ICAO for access to U.S.-produced aeronautical charts, they said.

But the United States discouraged the UN agency from helping North Korea with its air programme as Washington wanted to “pool all the leverages and incentives” until Pyongyang makes substantial progress on denuclearisation, a third source said.

“They would keep tight hold of all available leverage to make sure there is no loophole until the North Koreans take action that deserves a reward,” the source said.
All sources spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

ICAO cannot impose binding rules on governments, but wields clout through its safety and security standards which are approved by its member states.

Asked for comment, a US State Department official said it does not publicly discuss details of diplomatic conversations. An ICAO spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The North Korean mission to the United Nations in New York did not respond to a request for comment and there was no immediate reaction from South Korea’s foreign ministry.