Seoul is seeking to prompt Pyongyang into taking a more “comprehensive” approach to negotiations with the U.S., South Korea’s foreign minister stressed Friday.
In comments to foreign press at Seoul’s Foreign Correspondents Club, minister Kang Kyung-wha reiterated remarks made in a speech earlier in the week in which she said the DPRK would need to “expand” its scope should negotiations move forward.
Asked to clarify those comments, the foreign minister said the remarks represented a reiteration of South Korea’s stance that “a comprehensive agreement” between Washington and Pyongyang “inevitably will have to implemented step by step, simultaneously.”
“That was a reiteration of our approach and, if the North Koreans were to read things into it, encouraging them to also take a more comprehensive, broad view of the issues,” she said.
Both the U.S. and North Korea have in the past few weeks appeared to have hardened, not softened, their stances, with DPRK vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui on Tuesday warning the U.S. of “consequences” should it decide against continuing negotiations.
That statement came in response to similarly pessimistic remarks the previous week by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the U.S. would “change paths” should diplomacy with the DPRK not succeed.
And coming as they do, too, following a month in which North Korea’s leadership dismissed Seoul’s role as an “officious” mediator between Pyongyang and Washington and rebuffed the South’s attempts at further dialogue, it’s unclear how much influence Kang’s comments might have.
Discussing this freeze in inter-Korean contact Friday, the foreign minister stressed that South Korean President Moon Jae-in remains committed to another meeting with the DPRK leader in the near future.
Seoul sending a special envoy to the North remains “one option” for breaking this impasse, she said.
“As the President has said he remains open to a fourth meeting with the chairman [Kim Jong Un] wherever and in whatever format,” she continued.
“The North Koreans operate under a very different system than we do, I think they have a system where they can move on one thing and not on many multiple tasks that we are used to.”
Pyongyang is likely still “taking stock” of the outcomes of February’s failed DPRK-U.S. summit in Hanoi, she added.
“We remain optimistic that at some point they will return to the dialogue,” the foreign minister stressed, saying that Seoul’s hope was to “revitalize and strengthen momentum” in both U.S.-DPRK and inter-Korean dialogue.
Asked as a follow-up by NK News whether more flexibility from the U.S. might help move the two countries beyond a now-months-long diplomatic impasse, Kang said that North Korea sanctions must be understood in their “global context.”
“These are not just U.S. sanctions, these are global sanctions imposed by the Security Council,” she said.
“There has to be a Security Council decision if this is going to change in any way, and that requires North Korea’s action that assures us that they are well on their way to complete denuclearization,” she continued.
“How to sequence can be negotiated, but the logic is clear… there has to be visible, concrete, substantial action on that track before the global community can do anything about those sanctions.”
Kang’s remarks come as the South Korean government has increasingly promoted its plans for an “early harvest” for Pyongyang.
That concept, promoted by South Korean officials ahead of last month’s summit between Presidents Moon Jae-in and Donald Trump, would see the North be given more incentives to denuclearize.
President Trump during that summit, however, appeared to rebuff Seoul’s plan, instead stressing the U.S. sought a “big deal” with North Korea.
Foreign minister Kang today also admitted that there continue to be differences between the U.S. and South Korea over the North Korean issue, but that the two would continue “close coordination.”
Thursday saw the foreign minister tell local media 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 these broader efforts, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun is set to visit Seoul “soon,” she confirmed.
Featured image: Inter-Korean summit press corps