South Korea hopes to take more independent initiatives to improve its fractious relationship with the North, a spokesperson for the country’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) told press on Wednesday.
Speaking at a regular briefing, ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min was asked to clarify remarks by South Korean President Moon Jae-in in his New Year’s Address on Tuesday, in which he laid out ambitious plans for inter-Korean cooperation in the coming year.
The President, Lee said, was seeking to find a “realistic method” for improving Seoul-Pyongyang relations, while insisting that South Korea would continue to adhere to international sanctions against North Korea.
“We will advance what can be independently done on our own,” the MOU spokesperson insisted, stressing that Seoul “will cooperate with the international community [regarding measures] such as the UNSC resolutions to solve the problem of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.”
Moon’s speech on Tuesday saw the South Korean President express his willingness to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un again and vow to “continue efforts” to resume inter-Korean operations at the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mount Kumgang tourism resort.
While accepting that progress in denuclearization largely hinged on success in DPRK-U.S. talks, Moon proposed a range of possible areas in which Seoul and Pyongyang could cooperate, including in sports and stepping up efforts to connect road and railway along the inter-Korean border.
Responding to the President’s remarks later on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris stressed that the U.S. wanted to see progress toward denuclearization “in lockstep” with improving ties between the two Koreas.
“Those steps… should be done in consultation with us, and we’ll work closely with our Korean ally, a partner,” said Harris, in an interview with South Korean broadcaster KBS.
The MOU on Wednesday appeared to push back against Harris’s remarks, insisting that South Korea was “the stakeholder of the problems on the Korean peninsula.”
It remains to be seen if Pyongyang will respond to the South Korean President’s calls for Pyongyang and Seoul to resume cooperation, however.
Relations between the two have failed to make significant headway since last February, with little to no inter-Korean contact at a liaison office in Kaesong and North Korea’s repeated rejections of the South’s attempts to serve as a “mediator” in nuclear diplomacy.
Edited by Oliver Hotham