South Korea minister seeks to warm chilled ties with North Korea

South Korean Unification Minister Lee In-young walks with military officers during a visit to the Demilitarised Zone on Sept 16, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea's unification minister sought to reopen dialogue with the North on Wednesday (Sept 16), with relations in the deep freeze just days before the second anniversary of a wide-ranging cooperation agreement.

Very few of the pledges signed by North Korea leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at their 2018 Pyongyang summit have come to pass. They included joint sports teams and an Olympic bid, transport links, and a visit by Mr Kim to Seoul.

Instead, relations have been at a standstill since the collapse of a Hanoi summit between the North and the United States last year, and this June, Pyongyang blew up a North-South liaison office on its side of the border.

But South Korea's Unification Minister Lee In-young said: "I hope that communication channels, including the inter-Korean liaison office, can be restored and we can resume open-minded dialogue at an early date."

Mr Lee spoke in front of a pine tree which Mr Moon and Mr Kim planted together in Panmunjom, the truce village in the Demilitarised Zone that divides the peninsula, during their first summit two years ago.

Mr Lee, a political heavyweight, described the demolition of the liaison office as a "regrettable affair", but did not directly criticise Pyongyang.

"I believe the North has willingness to comply with the (2018) agreement in its own way," he said.

With less than two years of his single presidential term remaining, time is running out for Mr Moon - who has long championed engagement with Pyongyang - to reach a settlement with the North.

But Pyongyang has repeatedly said it has no interest in talking to Seoul since the breakdown of the Hanoi summit over sanctions relief and what the nuclear-armed North would be willing to give up in return.

Regardless, Mr Moon has called for another meeting between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump before the US presidential election in November - even though that process is currently deadlocked.

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