Seoul to mend inter-Korean ties despite US stalemate

SEOUL • Inter-Korean cooperation does not necessarily have to wait for the United States' denuclearisation talks with North Korea to progress, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said on Tuesday after meeting her US and Japanese counterparts.

"Our basic stance is that North Korea-US talks and inter-Korean dialogue complement each other in a virtuous cycle," she told reporters after meeting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other diplomats in Palo Alto, California.

Dr Kang said that with US-North Korea talks in stalemate, it is essential to revive "North Korea's engagement momentum" through inter-Korean talks.

The meeting came after South Korean President Moon Jae-in said inter-Korean cooperation could help ease the way for sanctions to be lifted on North Korea.

It is unclear whether North Korea would welcome the proposed steps.

Pyongyang has spent the last year criticising South Korea and has said it plans to demolish a tourist facility at Mount Kumgang, once seen as an example of inter-Korean cooperation.

Seoul suspended tours to the mountain in 2008 after a 53-year-old South Korean tourist was shot and killed when she entered an off-limits area.

The South's Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eun-han told a briefing yesterday that South Korea is actively considering starting "individual tours" to North Korea if guarantees of tourist safety can be secured from Pyongyang.

"We understand individual tours are not bounded by the UN sanctions," he said.

"There are issues regarding inter-Korean cooperation that need discussions between South Korea and the United States, but also areas in which South Korea can proceed with independently," Mr Kim said.

Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul told a private gathering in Seoul on Tuesday that the South Korean government will do what it can to mend ties with Pyongyang this year rather than waiting for North Korea's relations with Washington to improve.

The US State Department has said Washington and Seoul are committed to a unified response to North Korea.

Denuclearisation talks are stalled amid North Korean demands for more concessions, and US assertions that Pyongyang must take more concrete steps towards giving up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

Dr Kang also said Mr Pompeo repeated a request for South Korea to deploy military resources to a US-led naval force in the Middle East, with the US official arguing that nations with "economic stakes" in the region should contribute.

South Korea has not committed to sending troops, but Dr Kang said Seoul would "explore how to contribute".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2020, with the headline 'Seoul to mend inter-Korean ties despite US stalemate'. Subscribe