Unification Minister Lee In-young on Thursday stressed the importance of the upcoming South Korea-US summit, pinning hopes on the meeting as a chance to revive the stalled Korean Peninsula peace process.
“I believe the first half of this year, with the US’ policy review on North Korea expected to be completed and uncertainty being cleared up, will be a golden opportunity and the most optimal time for the South, the North and the US to move together toward the Korean Peninsula peace process,” Lee told reporters during a press conference in Seoul. “On that note, the Korea-US summit planned for next month is very important.”
He expressed hope that the summit would serve as an important chance to accelerate the resumption of the peace process on the peninsula, based on strategic coordination between Seoul and Washington on dealing with Pyongyang.
President Moon Jae-in and US President Joe Biden are set to meet in Washington in late May for their first face-to-face talks since Biden’s inauguration. With Washington expected to complete its monthslong policy review on North Korea in the weeks ahead, North Korea is likely to be high on the agenda.
Moon, who is approaching the final year of his five-year term, has expressed hopes that the upcoming summit might serve as a turning point for inter-Korean relations and nuclear diplomacy with the reclusive regime. The two sides have been deadlocked since the collapse of the Hanoi summit in February 2019.
Despite the recent buildup of cross-border tensions, Lee believes Pyongyang is still “exploring chances for talks” with Washington and Seoul, noting that Pyongyang has not carried out a major provocation and has taken a measured approach toward criticism of Seoul. “North Korea will likely be watching the US policy on the North and particularly the outcome of next month’s Korea-US summit and weigh its next external actions, also considering the COVID-19 situation,” he said.
The minister reiterated his calls for Pyongyang to reengage with Seoul, adding that the government was open to talks with North Korea “anytime, anywhere and on anything.”
“Inter-Korean talks can even restart right now if only North Korea is willing,” he said.
In the meantime, Lee stressed that the South Korean government will do what it can, starting with humanitarian cooperation projects, such as public health projects dealing with COVID-19, as well as providing rice and fertilizer to Pyongyang.
Noting that Seoul can’t just wait around for Washington and Pyongyang to restart the stalled denuclearization talks, Lee believes invigorated cooperation in humanitarian areas between the two Koreas could help create a favorable atmosphere for talks on denuclearization, establishment of peace and economic cooperation going forward.
Meanwhile, Lee received his first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine last week.
Lee was vaccinated in preparation for a possible trip to the US in the future, according to a high-ranking ministry official, though the exact schedule of the visit has not yet been decided.
By Ahn Sung-mi (email@example.com