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Seoul calls shots in engaging Pyongyang: official

South Korea is a sovereign country that dictates its own North Korean policies, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Friday, in a reference to remarks by US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris that Washington should be consulted on potential cross-border tourism to the North.

Unification Ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min (Yonhap)
Unification Ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min (Yonhap)

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

On Thursday, Ambassador Harris said that South Korea should run the idea of reengaging with North Korea through the working group with the United States, referring to a group Seoul and Washington jointly established in 2018 to narrow their sometimes divergent approaches to Pyongyang.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in earlier spoke on “individual tourism” to North Korea as one of inter-Korean projects to improve ties with North Korea.

“In order to avoid a misunderstanding later that could trigger sanctions… it’s better to run this through the working group,” Harris told reporters at the press event.

Harris said tourism is allowed under sanctions but warned that problems could emerge from items contained in luggage carried by South Koreans into North Korea.

He furthered that the individual tourism could involve the UN Command should tourists opt to cross the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas.

“South Korea is a sovereign country and will do what it sees as best for its national interest,” Harris said. But he added that Washington has an interest in inter-Korea cooperation.

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

Lee said the government is considering ways to elicit a response from Pyongyang on the matter and expects to expand inter-Korea civilian exchange.

By Choi Si-young (