South Korea's policy on North Korea is a matter of sovereignty, the unification ministry said Friday, after US Ambassador Harry Harris called for Seoul to make sure to consult closely with Washington about its engagement plans with the North.
On Thursday, Ambassador Harris told foreign media reporters that South Korea should consult with Washington about its plans to engage with North Korea in order to "avoid a misunderstanding later that could trigger sanctions."
His remarks came as South Korea is looking into the possibility of individual tours to North Korea as part of efforts to expand cross-border exchanges after President Moon Jae-in called strongly for bolstering relations with North Korea so as to help move the stalled nuclear talks moving again.
"Our policy with regard to North Korea belongs to our sovereignty," Lee Sang-min, the ministry's spokesperson, told a regular press briefing. "The US has repeatedly made it clear through diverse channels that it respects South Korea's sovereignty related to its North Korea policy."
While calling for expanding inter-Korean exchanges during a press conference for the new year on Tuesday, Moon cited individual tours to the North as a possible way to pursue regardless of international sanctions on Pyongyang.
The US had shown reservations about Moon's initiative, with both the State Department and the White House National Security Council calling for the importance of carrying out sanctions even though they did voice clear opposition to the drive.
Asked if Seoul could consider easing the sanctions it imposed in 2010 for its deadly attack on a South Korean corvette to allow for individual tours, the ministry spokesperson said that previous governments took a flexible approach in their enforcement, if necessary, to facilitate exchanges between the two Koreas.
As for the North's repeated demand for the removal of South Korean-built facilities at Mount Kumgang on its east coast, he added that relevant government agencies are working together to draw up "practical" measures.
On Thursday, government sources said that North Korea has demanded South Korea remove its facilities at the mountain resort by the end of February.
In October, North Korea asked the South to come and tear down all its facilities in a bid to end a long-suspended joint tour program to the mountain and build an international tourist destination of its own.
Pyongyang has rejected Seoul's offers for face-to-face talks to discuss the fate of the resort, insisting on discussions through exchanges of documents. (Yonhap)