Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on Thursday said the government is making an all-out effort to resume stalled dialogues with North Korea, amid recent heightened tensions between the two Koreas.
“For the time being, North Korea has stopped taking additional measures that could worsen the situation in the Korean Peninsula. The ministry will remain vigilant and focus on managing the situation to prevent deterioration, and make all-out diplomatic efforts for the North to return to the negotiation table,” Kang told reporters during a press conference for local media outlets. “While closely monitoring the situation on the peninsula, we will focus on creating momentum for inter-Korean as well as US-North Korea talks.”
In regards to dealing with North Korea, she stressed that Washington and Seoul are closely communicating at various levels. “The US has continuously expressed it is ready to restart the talks with North Korea at any time. And if the talks are resumed, the US said it is willing to take a flexible stance,” she said.
Kang’s statement echoes South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s remarks the previous day, calling for US President Donald Trump to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for a summit before the US presidential election in November. The US-North Korea talks on denuclearization have remained in a deadlock since the collapse of the Hanoi summit early last year.
This comes as speculation mounts that Stephen Biegun, the US deputy secretary of state and the point man on North Korea, is planning to visit South Korea next week, and possibly bring Trump’s message to North Korea.
Kang, however, declined to confirm his visit.
In regards to controversy surrounding the South-Korea US working group, which coordinates policy on North Korea, hindering progress in inter-Korean relations, Kang added Seoul and Washington have been discussing the matter.
“The foreign ministry, as well as the US, assesses that the working group has operated fairly effectively,” she said. “But we are aware of the domestic concerns about it.”
Adding that the US and Korea both share such concern, she said that there was a discussion on how to improve the operation of the working group to dispel such concern when Lee Do-hoon, the special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, visited Washington last month for talks with his US counterpart Biegun.
During the press conference, Kang also touched upon the ongoing dispute with Tokyo over wartime history and trade issues.
“There is a huge gap in the stances between Seoul and Tokyo,” she said. “The biggest problem is Japan waging unfair trade restrictions in complaint over a Seoul court’s decision on Japanese firms on forced labor.”
“We are continuing the talks with Japan between trade officials, based on our stance that the situation need to return to before July 1.”
Kang was referring to the day when Japan tightened export controls of key chemicals for semiconductors to Korea last year, in an apparent retaliation for a verdict by Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 that ordered Japanese firms to make compensation for its use of Korean workers during World War II.
By Ahn Sung-mi (email@example.com