US blocks North Korean air traffic revival ahead of Trump-Kim summit

People visit the statues of former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il, right, on Mansu Hill to pay respects in Pyongyang on Feb. 16, 2019.(AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
Updated 18 February 2019
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US blocks North Korean air traffic revival ahead of Trump-Kim summit

  • UN agency has been working with Pyongyang on new air route
  • N. Korea asked for US-produced aviation charts — sources

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 programs.
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 programs.
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 US-produced aeronautical charts, they said.

Seeking leverage
But the United States discouraged the UN agency from helping North Korea with its air program as Washington wanted to “pool all the leverages and incentives” until Pyongyang makes substantial progress on denuclearization, 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.
In 2017, the United States proposed the UN Security Council freeze the assets of state-carrier Air Koryo, which flies to a handful of cities in China and Russia, as part of new sanctions on Pyongyang. The measure was dropped during negotiations between the 15 members.
Airlines including Air Koryo and Air China Ltd. offer less than 200,000 available seats a year in the North Korean market, according to a January note from independent research firm CAPA Center for Aviation.
That compares with over 13 million seats available in the South Korean market, which has roughly double the population, CAPA said.
The biggest beneficiaries of lifting air restrictions over North Korea would be South Korean carriers including Korean Air Lines and Asiana Airlines Inc, according to CAPA.

Denuclearization pressure
The United States has doubled down on sanctions enforcement ahead of the planned second summit amid concerns Pyongyang is not committed to denuclearization, though Washington promised to relax some rules on humanitarian aid.
South and North Korea, meanwhile, have rapidly advanced relations, which prompted US officials to openly warn against moving too quickly without sufficient progress on denuclearization.
A fourth source told Reuters that the US move to facilitate humanitarian aid was intended to appease South Korea, facing some complaints that Washington is not willing to make any concessions.
“But they made it clear that there will be no relief of economic sanctions until they see substantial progress,” said the source who also spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.


Women cleared of defamation in French sexual misconduct case

Updated 15 min 30 sec ago
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Women cleared of defamation in French sexual misconduct case

  • The court considered that the women and journalists acted in good faith, which is a defense for defamation under French law
PARIS: A Paris court has dismissed a defamation case against six women who accused a former French lawmaker of sexual misconduct and the journalists who reported the allegations.
The court on Friday ordered Denis Baupin to pay 1,000 euros ($1,120) in damages to each of the 12 people he sued.
In May 2016, investigative website Mediapart and radio station France Inter published and broadcast accounts from 14 women who alleged Baupin had groped, sexted or otherwise harassed them.
The prominent Green Party member resigned as vice president of the lower House of Parliament but denied wrongdoing and launched a defamation lawsuit against the six women who were identified in the reports, some witnesses and journalists.
The case had been under particular scrutiny in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Women rights activists have seen it as a test of French women’s ability to speak out when they think powerful men have sexually harassed or abused them — and how journalists can report it.
The court considered that the women and journalists acted in good faith, which is a defense for defamation under French law.
In addition, it considered France Inter and Mediapart respected their additional obligations: the legitimacy of journalists’ goals in producing a story, demonstrating an absence of personal animosity, prudence and balance, and the quality of the investigation.
Most of the women who spoke about Baupin’s alleged behavior from 1998 to 2013 were fellow Green Party members, and outrage greeted their descriptions.
Four filed criminal complaints for sexual harassment at the time. A nine-month judicial investigation ended without charges. Prosecutors said the three-year statute of limitations had expired, but released a statement saying the women’s “measured, constant statements” and witness corroboration created a set of facts to support allegations of actions that “may for some of them be classified as criminal.”
The cleared women greeted the ruling with tears of joy and relief.
Lawyer Claire Moleon, a lawyer for one of them, told The Associated Press that “this is a great victory.”
“This is a very strong signal given by justice. It’s putting an end to a move that we were noticing to use defamation lawsuits to put more pressure on the victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse,” she said.
Moleon stressed that Baupin’s order to pay damages to the people he sent on trial shows that “sanctions apply” to such cases.
During the February trial, women had described, often with lots of emotion, their alleged harassment through text messages and inappropriate comments, and in some cases, alleged sexual assault attempts.
Some former officials of France’s Green Party also testified in court, saying they should have acted earlier on reports of sexual misconduct. They stressed that the #MeToo movement has raised their awareness.
Baupin’s lawyer Emmanuel Pierrat, had argued his client did nothing illegal and had filed a defamation lawsuit to “fully clear his name.”
Baupin had decided not to attend the trial.