South Korea’s foreign minister on Thursday admitted to disagreements between Seoul and Washington over the DPRK issue, in comments in which she also confirmed that a scheduled visit to the ROK by U.S. Special Representative Stephen Biegun will take place soon.
Speaking at a special news conference, Seoul’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha reiterated that the U.S. and South Korea agreed on their “basic approach” toward DPRK denuclearization, and on the need for a “comprehensive agreement with phased, simultaneous and parallel implementation.”
Two North Korea-U.S. summits were able to go ahead thanks to this “close coordination” between the ROK and the U.S., she said, while acknowledging there was a need to narrow the gap between the two countries.
“There is a difference in our positions,” she told a press briefing, adding that dialogue was needed to reduce the gap over how best to move towards denuclearization.
The comments came in response to a question asking her to elaborate on comments made during a speech at Hansung University yesterday — comments which saw her say the ROK and the U.S. were using a “push and pull” strategy in the course of discussing how to achieve that goal.
She emphasized that both sides are seeking the “identical goal… of achieving complete denuclearization,” adding it was natural there would be a difference in opinion between the two countries, given their different stature and roles within the international community.
Speaking at Thursday’s news conference, the foreign minister said Seoul has its own “analysis and direction to pursue in accordance with its geopolitical location and national interests.”
“My view is that the process of coordination is to sufficiently share understanding on parts where both have insufficient understanding,” she continued.
“I believe the coordination does not necessary means they share every position.”
The comments follow controversial remarks by U.S. Ambassador to the ROK Harry Harris last week, in which he appeared to express skepticism about the South Korean government plans for a more incremental approach to North Korea’s denuclearization.
Speaking to South Korean reporters, Harris said he was unsure how a “middle step” in which Pyongyang would receive a package of incentives ahead of its full denuclearization, might work.
“There will be no sanctions relief until denuclearization,” he said. “So, I don’t know what the middle step is.”
The South Korean has in recent weeks increasingly argued for it has described as an “early harvest” for North Korea, and the need to turn any “small deal” with Pyongyang into a “good enough deal.”
To reduce this gap, foreign minister Kang on Thursday said that Seoul will “come up with a strategy for dialogue in the future continuously coordinating with the U.S.”
As part of what appear to be efforts to enhance coordination, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun is set to visit Seoul “soon,” Kang confirmed to media.
“I believe it will be a crucial dialogue,” she said. “Although we continuously discuss the schedule of Representative Biegun and topics, it is expected to involve a comprehensive consultation over various pending issues pertinent to North Korea.”
When asked whether the North had demonstrated more progress in denuclearization or whether the U.S. should lower its expectations in order to restart now-deadlocked nuclear negotiations, the foreign minister suggested that Pyongyang show more flexibility.
“The U.S. hopes for an expansive dialogue with a comprehensive approach,” she told local outlets. “My view is that North Korea should look into the issue with a more comprehensive perspective, expanding its scope.”
Both the North and the U.S. are using “pressure tactics considerably to each other,” the South Korean foreign minister said.
As Pyongyang steps up its rhetoric, Kang said she believed it will increase room for Seoul play the role as a facilitator in nuclear negotiations.
“North Korea and the U.S. clearly want the resumption of dialogue,” she said. “The willingness at the level of leaders is unequivocal. Our role in making dialogue resume becomes more significant…”
In that context, Kang said, the ROK and the U.S. would hold a “comprehensive discussion” during Biegun’s upcoming visit.
The U.S. Special Representative last visited Seoul in February, in the run-up to and following talks in Pyongyang.
A meeting of the ROK-U.S. working group on North Korean issues is also scheduled to be held during that visit, the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) confirmed to NK News on Thursday.
The group last met in Washington on March 14.
And while South Korean outlets on Wednesday and Thursday reported that the two sides were expected to use the meeting to discuss humanitarian aid to North Korea, the ROK MOFA said agenda topics for the working group remain under discussion.
Last month’s ROK-U.S. summit, however, saw President Donald Trump say both sides were “discussing certain humanitarian things right now.”
During Thursday’s press briefing, Kang also said the South Korean government hopes that it take steps to implement a plan to provide over $8 million in humanitarian aid to the DPRK — on hold since September 2017 — via international organizations “expeditiously.”
“Our government’s basic stance is that the humanitarian aid to North Korea is irrelevant to the political situation,” she said, adding that Seoul would continue consultations with major countries and the international community to “muster their will” to provide aid to the North.
Kang also confirmed that, despite Seoul’s continued “review,” the foreign ministry is yet to appoint an ambassador-at-large on North Korean Human Rights — a position vacant since September 2017.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: File Photo of South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA)
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