Steve Park claims MOU with DPRK over Kumgang

Steve Park, president of Korea Pyongyang Trading USA which imports a North Korean Soju (see previous posts here), claims that he has signed a MOU with the DPRK over tourism in the Kumgang resort.  This claim has been picked up by numerous media outlets.  It might be true, but I have yet to see the MOU documentation or any corroboration in the DPRK media.

According to the Hankyoreh:

Park Il-woo, also known as Steve Park, who has long conducted business with the communist nation, said his firm recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the Mount Kumgang tourism business. He is the president of Korea Pyongyang Trading U.S.A., which imports a North Korean liquor branded Pyongyang Soju.

The MOU stipulates that the company will be in charge of marketing, investor relations and tourist recruitment for what is said to be the most scenic mountain on the peninsula. Under the agreement, the mountain area will be developed into a multi-purpose resort.

He said he plans to visit North Korea this weekend or next week to discuss concrete business plans. He expressed confidence that he will be able to attract substantial U.S. investment for the business. The North is also expected to select Japanese and Chinese business partners soon, he added.

According to another article in the AFP:

“I understand (the North) will also select Japanese and Chinese business partners soon,” said Park, whose company imports a North Korean liquor branded Pyongyang Soju.

No sooner had the deal been announced than the South Koreans raised the point that Mr. Park will need the permission of the US government to carry out his business plans. According to Yonhap:

A small New York-based company selected by North Korea to revive a stalled tour program to a mountain resort in the isolated country needs the endorsement of the U.S. government for its project, a South Korean official said Friday.

The U.S. Executive Order 13570 that took effect in April prohibits the importation into the United States, directly or indirectly, of any goods, services, or technology from North Korea.

Under the order, the envisioned tour program to North Korea’s Mount Kumgang by Korea Pyongyang Trading U.S.A. is subject to the U.S. government’s approval, the official said.

The company, headed by a Korean-American businessman, has yet to file an application with the U.S. government for approval of its proposed tour project in the North, the official said on the condition of anonymity, citing office policy.

U.S. State Department officials in Washington were not immediately available for comment.

The comments by the South Korean official came days after the New York firm signed a memorandum of understanding with the North on the tour program.

According tot he Donga Ilbo, Mr. Park has not yet submitted any paperwork to the US government:

Korea Pyongyang Trading USA is known to have not yet submitted an application to the U.S. government for business with the North.

Another South Korean government source said, “Considering the scale and situation of the trading company that was reportedly chosen as the new operator of the Mount Kumgang tour program and under the conditions of U.S. sanctions against the North and the executive order, we cannot confidently say the Mount Kumgang tour project will be implemented.”

These views by Seoul officials apparently reflect their internal judgment that they cannot accept Pyongyang`s unilateral revocation of Hyundai Asan’s exclusive right to the tours and appointment of a new operator.

The South Korean government understands that the North is taking steps to attract another foreign business other than the American company. Government officials in Seoul predicted, however, that the North is unlikely to find an operator due to U.S. sanctions against Pyongyang, limited demand for tours, and lack of infrastructure in the North.

A timeline of Kumgang stories from the shooting until now can be found here.

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