|Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul speaks during an open forum event with reporters at the Press Center in central Seoul, Monday. / Yonhap|
By Jhoo Dong-chan, Kim Yoo-chul
In response to North Korea's repeated threats to demolish South Korea-built structures and facilities at its Mount Geumgang resort, Seoul offered to "repair" some of the older facilities a unification ministry official said Tuesday. However, the North apparently rejected the proposal.
"The government suggested a plan to repair some of the facilities and structures on Mount Geumgang; but North Korea is still demanding the complete removal of all South Korean-invested assets at the resort," the official told reporters in a briefing. He added that there have been no developments regarding a separate proposal for face-to-face talks about the issue.
"North Korea is insisting to move forward on the matter through relevant procedures via the exchange of documents. Inter-Korean relations are not in a good shape," the official said.
The unification ministry, which handles all inter-Korean affairs, said some structures at the resort need to be repaired and remodeled as necessary groundwork to restart the tourism project. The Mount Geumgang Resort was a rare symbol of joint inter-Korean economic cooperation along with the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, but both have now been suspended for years.
These latest updates came a day after Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul stressed the need for the early resumption of the tourism project to possibly advance the stalemate in denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea.
During a forum held in Seoul, Monday, Kim said he told U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun on the sidelines of his recent visit to Washington D.C. about the necessity of resuming the program as it would benefit "all stakeholders" in the denuclearization process.
"Until its suspension, 1.93 million people had visited the resort, and there are mounting expectations among South Koreans of a resumption. Although there are some hurdles, including sanctions, I emphasized (to Biegun) the role of tour program in the denuclearization process and how a resumption could benefit not only the North and South but also other stakeholders such as the United States in regional security," the minister told reporters during the forum at the Press Center, downtown Seoul.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had previously ordered the demolition all South Korean facilities and structures on Mount Geumgang. After this was made public, the unification ministry held talks with Hyundai Asan, the South Korean company that holds the exclusive rights to operate a tourism business there, to save the assets.
Minister Kim said that despite stalled inter-Korean relations, adopting a "hawkish approach" would not work in terms of breaking the current impasse, stressing the government would seek to create the "right conditions" for another possible U.S.-North Korea summit.
During the forum, the minister admitted that the denuclearization talks have reached a deadlock, but claimed the government was doing its best to find a middle ground with officials from Pyongyang.
"It's a difficult situation," Kim said. "We believe, however, North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear program. We already confirmed this determination in the agreement signed after the summit between President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un. It is our job to help North Korea actualize this."
As to whether repeated missile tests by the North were a breach of the inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA), a landmark confidence-building deal signed Sept. 19, 2018, the minister said: "The North's recent series of provocations violated the spirit of the inter-Korean military agreement."
Kim added that despite this, they were not a direct violation. Under the agreement, signed by President Moon and North Korean leader Kim at their Pyongyang summit, the two agreed to stop hostile activities and jointly remove landmines and guard posts in the heavily-fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the Koreas.
"It is essential to maintain the Sept. 19 CMA to help ease tensions on the peninsula. There have been setbacks and advances in inter-Korean relations, and there will be more in the future."
Meanwhile, Kim declined to comment on the background relating to a decision to deport two North Korean fishermen seeking asylum here, and a pending case regarding defectors in Vietnam.