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Inter-Korean volcano talks ‘premature’: Seoul official

JEJU (Yonhap News) ― It is “premature” for the two Koreas to hold governmental talks for a joint survey of a North Korean mountain to assess the risk of its potential volcanic eruption, a high-level Seoul official said Sunday.

The remark came days after the two Koreas agreed to conduct a joint on-site survey of Mount Baekdu during a rare civilian-led meeting that experts say may help open the way for official dialogue between the two countries.

“We cannot rule out a possibility that the experts’ meeting could develop further (into an inter-governmental meeting) if it goes well, laying grounds for dialogue. We, however, have no intention to utilize it as a formality to open the dialogue,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

“The ball is in the North’s court, not ours,” the official said. “The future of inter-Korean dialogue depends on Pyongyang’s attitude.”

Mount Baekdu, the highest mountain on the Korean Peninsula, has been dormant since its last eruption in 1903, but experts have warned that it may still have an active core, citing topographical signs and satellite images.

The official also said that South Korea can send more civilian aid to the vulnerable in the North if transparent distribution can be ensured.

He, however, reaffirmed that his government has no immediate plan to send massive rice shipments to North Korea by saying, “There is no change in the present government position.”

Commenting on Pyongyang’s termination of an exclusive tourism deal with Hyundai Asan, the official said that the decision runs “100 percent” against a contract with the South Korean company as well as an agreement between the two governments.

“The act would come to hurt the North itself,” he said.

On April 8, the North said it has terminated the company’s exclusive rights to run a resort on Mount Geumgang on its east coast, voicing skepticism over the resumption of the joint venture.

South Korean tours to the scenic mountain, a source of hard currency for the impoverished North, have been suspended since the summer of 2008, when a female South Korean tourist was shot dead after straying into an off-limits military zone.
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