The governments of the two estranged nations were set to begin preliminary plans for the rail link last week, but their application to send a train from Seoul across the length of North Korea was denied by the US-led United Nations Command. The multinational military body, which traces its roots back to the Korean War, controls movement across the demilitarized zone which separates North and South Korea.
The decision is the latest illustration of Washington’s hardline approach to dealing with Pyongyang. The US has demanded full denuclearization as a prerequisite to any economic cooperation with North Korea, while Seoul has taken a less extreme stance, favoring constructive engagement with its northern neighbor. South Korean President Moon Jae-in had expressed hope that the rail link would be completed by the end of the year.
Moon has invested considerable political capital into improving inter-Korean relations and has signaled his desire for large-scale investment in North Korea once sanctions are lifted.