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.


UK PM candidate Hunt: Boris Johnson is a ‘coward’ for avoiding debates on Brexit

Updated 51 min 9 sec ago
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UK PM candidate Hunt: Boris Johnson is a ‘coward’ for avoiding debates on Brexit

  • Jeremy Hunt: It was disrespectful for Boris Johnson to turn down the opportunity for a head-to-head debate
  • Hunt says candidates should explain their Brexit positions

LONDON: Jeremy Hunt, one of the two candidates vying to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May, said on Monday that rival Boris Johnson was a coward for avoiding public head-to-head debates on what to do about Brexit.
“On the question of debates, he is being a coward,” Foreign Secretary Hunt said. “It is cowardice not to appear in head-to-head debates.”
Hunt, 52, said it was disrespectful for Johnson to have turned down the opportunity for a head-to-head debate on Sky television.
“People need to know what you’re going to do and you need to answer those questions,” Hunt said. “I promise Boris Johnson the fight of his life and he’s going to have that and he’s going to lose.”
Johnson, 55, is the favorite to win a vote of 160,000 Conservative Party members who will decide who will be the next prime minister. Betting markets give him a 79 percent implied probability of winning the top job, down from 92 percent last week.
He has cast himself as the only candidate who can deliver Brexit on October 31 — with or without a deal — while fighting off the electoral threats of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and socialist Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.
Early on Friday, police were called to Johnson’s home after neighbors heard a loud altercation between him and his girlfriend. Police said there was no cause for police action.
The Guardian newspaper, which first reported the story, said an unidentified neighbor had heard Johnson’s girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, screaming followed by “slamming and banging.” At one point, Symonds could be heard telling Johnson to “get off me” and “get out of my flat.”
Johnson declined to answer questions about the incident at a hustings event in Birmingham on Saturday.
Hunt said the personal life of Johnson was irrelevant but that the candidates should explain their Brexit positions — and specifically what would a new leader do if lawmakers tried to sink a new government heading toward a no-deal Brexit.
“If parliament takes no-deal off the table before Oct. 31, will Boris call a general election?” Hunt said. “I think a general election would be catastrophic.”
Hunt said he would seek a better deal from the EU to leave on Oct. 31 and would, if absolutely necessary, leave without a deal. If parliament took a no-deal Brexit off the table, he intimated there would have to be delay.
“In that situation, you would have to carry on negotiating,” Hunt said. “I want to leave by Oct. 31 but if parliament stops it the prime minister has to obey the law.”
Johnson repeated on Monday that he would lead the United Kingdom out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal.
“We are going to come out of the EU on October 31,” he wrote in The Daily Telegraph. “This time we are not going to bottle it.”
Like Hunt, Johnson promised lower taxes if he wins the top job.
When asked the naughtiest thing he had ever done, Hunt said: “When I was backpacking through India, I once had a Bhang Lassi — which is a kind of cannabis lassi — that’s the naughtiest thing I am prepared to confess to on this program.”