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Seoul calls shots in engaging Pyongyang: official

Unification Ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min (Yonhap)
Unification Ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min (Yonhap)
South Korea is a sovereign country that dictates its own North Kore policy, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Friday, in response to remarks by US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris that Washington should be consulted on potential cross-border tourism to Pyongyang.

“The US has made it clear through many channels that it respects the sovereignty of South Korea, and our North Korea policy falls under that description,” spokesperson Lee Sang-min said at a press briefing.

On Thursday, Ambassador Harris said that the South should run the idea of reengaging with the North through what is known as the working group between Seoul and Washington, which was established in 2018 to narrow the two allies’ sometimes divergent approaches to Pyongyang.

Harris was referring to President Moon Jae-in’s suggestion that his government start working on “individual tourism” to North Korea as part of inter-Korean projects to improve strained bilateral relations.

“In order to avoid a misunderstanding later that could trigger sanctions … it’s better to run this through the working group,” Harris said. He warned tourism is allowed under UN sanctions, but problems could emerge from items contained in luggage carried by South Koreans walking into North Korea.

South Korea is a sovereign country and will do what it sees as best for its national interest, Harris added.

“Tourism does not run against the UN sanctions, and a number of foreign tourists are visiting the North as we speak,” spokesperson Lee said. “We don’t see people calling that a violation of the sanctions.” 

The government is considering ways to elicit a response from Pyongyang on the matter, Lee added.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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