Two Koreas launch joint study on inter-Korean railways

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The Koreas plan to hold a groundbreaking ceremony by the end of the year on an ambitious project to connect railways and roads authorized by their leaders.

The South Korean engineers boarded the train in Dorasan, just north of Seoul, on Friday morning.

The South Koreans and their counterparts will live in the train, inspecting two railway lines for a total of 18 days - one linking the North's southernmost Kaesong City to Sinuiju City near the Chinese border, and the other connecting Mount Kumgang near the inter-Korean border to Tumen River bordering Russian Federation in the east. But beyond surveys and tape-cuttings, the Koreas can not move much further along without the removal of US -led sanctions against the North, which isn't likely to come before it takes firmer steps toward relinquishing its nuclear weapons and missiles. "We will maintain close consultation with related nations so that the project to connect the South and North's railways could proceed with global support".

According to plans outlined by Cho's ministry, Korean officials will begin by surveying a 400-km (248-mile) section of rail between Kaesong and Sinuiju that cuts through the North's central region and northeastern coast.

The weeks-long inspections, which will see South Korean cars running on North Korean tracks for the first time in a decade, represent one of the more significant goodwill gestures between the Koreas in past months as they move to reduce tensions across their heavily armed border. From Dec. 8 to 17, the Koreas will inspect an 800-kilometre (497 mile) railway section along the country's eastern coast, stretching from an area near the scenic Diamond Mountain to a riverside station near the North's border with Russian Federation.

The Unification Ministry said the North will attach its own cars to the engine, but it was unclear how many.

A South Korea train is prepared to travel across the border into North Korea at the Dorasan Station in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. The South used the trains to move construction materials north, while clothing and shoes made at the factory park were sent south.

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The Kaesong factory park was shut down under the South's previous conservative government in February 2016 following a North Korean nuclear test and long-range rocket launch.

However, US sanctions make it hard to proceed with this plan. Seoul initially said the joint surveys wouldn't violate United Nations sanctions but later said that Washington had different views and the two sides had discussed the matter. Kim also met with President Donald Trump in Singapore in June, when they issued a vague aspirational statement about a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing how or when it would occur.

Strains have emerged in the relationship between Seoul and Washington over how to handle North Korea, with some members of the US administration anxious that South Korea is moving too fast down the path of rapprochement, and some South Koreans frustrated that the United States is making what they see as unreasonable demands of Pyongyang, while maintaining harsh sanctions.

The US and North Korea are still in negotiations over denuclearization, but have been at loggerheads over who should act first. North Korea demands that the U.S. ease the sanctions, but the USA wants the communist state first to take irreversible steps to denuclearize.

In their most recent summit in Pyongyang in September, Kim and Moon committed to reviving economic co-operation when possible, voicing optimism that worldwide sanctions could end to allow such activity.

At the same time, soldiers from both sides were making another show of solidarity by removing at least 20 guard posts from the border.

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