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Unification minister nominee Kwon Young-se,<strong></strong> right, shakes hands with U.S. special envoy for North Korea Sung Kim during the latter's visit to Kwon's office in Jongno District, Seoul, Thursday. Courtesy of Ministry of Unification
Unification minister nominee Kwon Young-se, right, shakes hands with U.S. special envoy for North Korea Sung Kim during the latter's visit to Kwon's office in Jongno District, Seoul, Thursday. Courtesy of Ministry of Unification

Unification minister nominee reacts negatively about resumption of Mount Geumgang tourism

By Nam Hyun-woo

Unification minister nominee Kwon Young-se and U.S. special envoy for North Korea Sung Kim shared the common view that stronger Seoul-Washington relations will provide "room" for South Korea to resolve aggravating relations with the North.

According to the ministry, Kwon and Kim had a meeting on Thursday and shared their opinions on the Yoon Suk-yeol administration's North Korea policies.

"There has been a common understanding between me and Kim that South Korea can secure greater room in addressing North Korea's denuclearization or other issues when the relations between Seoul and Washington become stronger," Kwon told reporters after the meeting.

"We also shared common views that the unification ministry can cooperate with other (South Korean) government arms based on the room."

According to the ministry, Kwon also told Kim that North Korea is not interested in improving its relations with any other countries, but there can be a breakthrough in the current stalemate when Seoul offers talks with Pyongyang after finding out what the North truly wants.

He stated that humanitarian aid, such as COVID-19 vaccines or food, as possible tools for resuming talks with the North, but added that "the problem is that Pyongyang refuses to accept such aid."

According to Yoon's aides, special envoy Kim on Thursday also had a breakfast meeting with Korea University professor Kim Sung-han, who is the foreign affairs and national security subcommittee head of Yoon's presidential transition committee and is anticipated to be the national security advisor for the president-elect.

During the closed-door meeting, the two reportedly shared their opinions on the incoming Yoon government's North Korea policy directions, amid the North's escalating missile and nuclear threats.

North Korea has carried out 13 missile tests so far this year, including the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which Washington has set as an unofficial "red line" against the North's saber-rattling.

U.S. envoy Kim arrived in Seoul on Monday and will leave on Friday. During his stay, he met key South Korean diplomatic and North Korea policy officials, including his counterpart Noh Kyu-duk, foreign minister nominee Park Jin, President-elect Yoon, unification minister nominee Kwon and Prof. Kim.

During those meetings, the American envoy stressed the Biden administration's high expectations for close coordination with the Yoon government in North Korea policy, which some read as implying hope that the two countries' cooperation in dealing with North Korea's threats will be stronger under Yoon's presidency, compared to that of the current Moon Jae-in administration.

Yoon has been stressing the importance of a stronger Seoul-Washington alliance since his presidential campaign, saying South Korea should use the alliance as "a deterrence" against North Korea's threats.

Foreign minister nominee Park told reporters on Monday that the Moon administration's Korean Peninsula peace initiative has reached its "limit" despite its good cause.

"The current appeasement policies cannot stop North Korea from escalating tensions, and it is time to make practical changes to North Korea policies," Park said.

The unification minister nominee reacted negatively about the resumption of Mount Geumgang tourism, noting that suspension of tourism is part of the sanctions South Korea imposed on the North.

"In the case of Mount Geumgang tourism, I think resuming it is not a good idea at the moment," he told reporters. "North Korea has continued its provocations and shown no signs of stopping its nuclear program. Considering this, the resumption of tourism is not easy."

His remarks signaled a policy shift of the incoming Yoon Suk-yeol administration. The outgoing Moon Jae-in administration has continued to make efforts to resume inter-Korean tourism, saying that it is not part of the sanctions.



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