The U.S. has responded to a call by South Korean President Moon Jae-in for renewed inter-Korean cooperation by stressing that Seoul must continue to implement all sanctions on North Korea.
“All U.N. Member States are required to implement U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions, and we expect them all to continue doing so,” a State Department spokesperson said in an email message sent to VOA’s Korean Service Wednesday.
“The United States and South Korea coordinate closely on our efforts related to the DPRK, and we mutually work to ensure that U.N. sanctions are fully implemented,” the spokesperson continued.
The DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official English name of North Korea.
New Year's speech
In his New Year’s speech delivered Tuesday, Moon urged his government to work toward resuming joint projects at the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang resort, and reviving frayed inter-Korean ties.
Moon also invited North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to visit Seoul.
On Thursday, a South Korean Unification Ministry official addressed the possible resumption of Mount Kumgang tourism by saying, “We are still discussing the issue, but there has been no progress in the talks, with the two sides still remaining far apart,” according to the Yonhap News Agency in Seoul.
North Korea has berated South Korea for not resuming cooperation on the inter-Korean projects. But Seoul has been slow to restart the joint efforts, wary of violating the sanctions the U.N. placed on North Korea in 2016. The sanctions, which are aimed at curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons development program, ban setting up joint enterprises with North Korea. The closing of both projects deprived North Korea of a flow of much needed hard currency.
On Wednesday, Seoul said it will push ahead to restart the joint projects with North Korea.
“As the party directly involved in the Korean Peninsula issue, South Korea will expand room for maneuvers and move forward things that can be carried out independently as much as possible,” Unification Ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min said.
Lee’s remarks came after U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris said Tuesday during an interview with South Korean broadcaster KBS that inter-Korean relations should move in tandem with denuclearization efforts.
Warming relations between Seoul and Pyongyang began to chill after President Donald Trump denied Kim’s request for sanctions relief in exchange for partial denuclearization at the failed Hanoi Summit in February.
Denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang have been deadlocked since their working-level talks in Stockholm broke down in October.
Moon and Kim had agreed to reopen the shuttered factory complex in Kaesong and tours on Mount Kumgang when they met at their third summit held in Pyongyang in September 2018. At the time, the two leaders were hoping that thawing relations between Washington and Pyongyang would lead to a relaxation of U.S.-led sanctions placed on North Korea.
The two projects were at the heart of Seoul’s rapprochement with Pyongyang in the late 1990s.
Tours of the scenic Mount Kumgang began in 1998, but were ended by Seoul after a North Korean soldier fatally shot a South Korean tourist in 2008. South Korea began its joint industrial project with Pyongyang at the factory park in Kaesong in 2004 but shut it after North Korea conducted a long-range missile test in early 2016.
Last week Kim said his country will focus on economic self-sufficiency, adding the present situation with the U.S. requires North Korea “to live under the sanctions by the hostile forces.”
Christy Lee contributed to this story, which originated on VOA’s Korean Service.