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S. Korea, US at Odds over Moon's Push for Inter-Korean Projects

Write: 2020-01-17 13:56:08Update: 2020-01-17 15:14:38

S. Korea, US at Odds over Moon's Push for Inter-Korean Projects

Photo : YONHAP News

Anchor: Seoul and Washington are struggling to reconcile differing opinions on South Korea's push to resume tours to Mt. Geumgang in North Korea. Seoul's chief nuclear envoy met his U.S. counterpart in Washington to discuss plans to rekindle inter-Korean projects but the U.S. has so far only underlined a unified stance on the sanctions front. 
Kim Bum-soo has more. 

Report: South Korea's top nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon sat down with his U.S. counterpart Stephen Biegun in Washington on Thursday.

Key topics included Seoul's plan to enable individual tours to the North's Mt. Geumgang for families separated by the Korean War.

Lee talked to reporters after the meeting. 

[Sound bite: Lee Do-hoon - S. Korea's Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs (Korean)] 
"Basically, the U.S. position is that it respects decisions we make as a sovereign state. It has always been that way. Based on that respect, it is important that South Korea and the U.S. work together and coordinate on issues." 

The Moon Jae-in administration is seeking to improve cross-border ties with North Korea, absent progress in nuclear negotiations. For starters, Seoul wants to allow individual tourists to visit North Korea, a move that it says does not violate UN sanctions.

[Sound bite: Lee Do-hoon - S. Korea's Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs (Korean)]
"[Individual] tours are basically not specified under UN sanctions. However, when they are actually taking place, finer details could matter in terms of what kind of objects can be brought in and what tourists can take with them. So, experts from our side must pay close attention to coordinate and prevent misunderstandings." 

Seoul believes rekindling a reconciliatory mood on the Korean Peninsula may facilitate denuclearization negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

However, speaking to foreign correspondents in Seoul, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris stressed a unified response by the allies.

Reuters reported that the American envoy said President Moon’s continued optimism is encouraging, but with regard to acting on that optimism, things should be done in consultation with the U.S. 

Harris added that in order to avoid a misunderstanding that could trigger sanctions, it's better to run the tour issue through a bilateral "working group." 

South Korean negotiator Lee told reporters Thursday that working-group meetings with the U.S. have been effective and productive. But it's not only Washington but also Pyongyang which Seoul needs to persuade. 

According to government sources in Seoul, North Korea sent a notice at the end of last month demanding that Seoul remove its facilities at the scenic Mt. Geumgang resort by February. 

Before the current regress in inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea relations, Pyongyang repeatedly expressed its intention to restart a joint Geumgang tour program with South Korea, which was suspended after the shooting death of a South Korean tourist in 2008. 

But as Seoul has thus far failed to garner U.S. support on the matter, Pyongyang appears to be sticking to its position, first announced in November, that South Korean tour assets in the area should be removed.  
Kim Bum-soo, KBS World Radio News.

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