A previously-announced South Korea-U.S. working group on North Korean affairs held its first meeting in Washington DC on Tuesday, the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
The group is chaired by U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun and the ROK’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Lee Do-hoon.
It was set up to improve cooperation between Washington and Seoul on North Korean affairs, amid concerns about growing daylight between the allies on the issue.
“The working group further strengthened close U.S.-ROK coordination of efforts to achieve our shared goal of the final, fully verified denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” a statement by State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert read.
“The participants discussed denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean peninsula,” it continued. “…as well as the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions and inter-Korean cooperation.”
South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in a statement following the Tuesday meeting affirmed that the two sides had held an “in-depth discussion” on denuclearization, sanctions implementation, and other issues, including inter-Korean cooperation.
“Both South Korea and the U.S. agreed to more systematize and regularize ROK-U.S. cooperation, which has been closely pushed forward, by taking the meeting of the working group as the opportunity,” it added.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in comments ahead of the first meeting on Tuesday said he hoped the working group would ensure that there was no miscommunication between the allies over North Korea.
“We now have a working group that formalizes those processes so that we can be sure we don’t talk past each other, that we don’t take an action or the South Koreans don’t take an action that the other is unaware of or hasn’t had a chance to comment on or provide their thoughts,” Pompeo said.
S/R Biegun and #ROK S/R Lee Do-hoon convened U.S.-ROK working group to further strengthen coordination on diplomacy, final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK, implementation of the UNSCRs, inter-Korean cooperation, and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. pic.twitter.com/Ml1JU7WZo2
— EAP Bureau (@USAsiaPacific) November 20, 2018
The group’s first meeting follows several months of reported discord between the U.S. and South Korea over the North Korean issue, particularly over sanctions and inter-Korean projects.
ROK Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon in October admitted to “differences” between Seoul and Washington over plans for an on-site survey on inter-Korean road and rail cooperation.
South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha also later accepted there was disagreement between Washington and Seoul over the issue.
Optimism in the South on the pace of inter-Korean projects appeared to have waned in recent weeks, however.
Speaking on Monday following her third trip to the DPRK this year, Hyundai group CEO and Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun said she believed the resumption of joint inter-Korean tourism at Mt. Kumgang by the end of the year would be “difficult.”
Plans to set up a working group between the allies were announced early in the month during a visit by Special Representative Biegun to South Korea.
The State Department said at the time that it would seek to improve cooperation “on our diplomacy, on our denuclearization efforts, on sanctions implementation, and inter-Korean cooperation that comply with the United Nations sanctions.”
North Korea quickly denounced the plans as part of an American attempt to “ruin” inter-Korean cooperation projects.
ROK Special Representative Lee Do-hoon arrived in Washington DC on Monday, accompanied by, among others, an official from South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU).
The MOU has so far declined to confirm the name of the official, though has said they are a head of department.
Additional reporting by Dagyum Ji
Featured image: Creative Commons