SEOUL: South Korea on Monday proposed a face-to-face meeting with North Korea on the fate of a long-shuttered joint tourist project at a scenic North Korean mountain, as their relations remain cool over stalemated nuclear diplomacy.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week ordered the destruction of South Korean-built facilities at the North’s Diamond Mountain resort, saying they look “shabby” and “unpleasant-looking.” North Korea later proposed an exchange of documents to work out details.
On Monday, South Korea sent a message proposing officials from the two Koreas meet to discuss issues on the tourist project including the North’s push to tear down South Korean-constructed facilities there, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry. Spokesman Lee Sang-min said South Korea hasn’t yet proposed a specific date and location for that meeting.
Lee said South Korea has determined there should be “some sort of meeting” between the two Koreas to discuss the issue. He said “a unilateral action” by North Korea could damage inter-Korean relations and runs counter to public sentiments in South Korea.
North Korea didn’t immediately respond to South Korea’s proposal.
South Korean tours to the mountain began in 1998, providing a rare source of foreign currency for the impoverished North. The mountain was also one of the few places in North Korea that South Koreans could visit. But the project was halted in 2008 when a North Korean soldier fatally shot a South Korean tourist who the North says entered a restricted area.
Pyongyang has called for the project’s restart since it entered nuclear diplomacy with Washington and Seoul last year. But Seoul cannot revive tours to the mountain and other massive stalled inter-Korean economic projects while international sanctions remain in place over the North’s nuclear program.
Some experts say the North’s threat to destroy the South Korean facilities, which include hotels, restaurants and spas, might be an expression of its frustration at the sanctions and a bid to put more pressure on Seoul to resume the tours.
Lee, the South Korean spokesman, said the South Korean proposal include the Seoul-based Hyundai Asan, the former tour operator at the mountain resort, attending possible talks with North Korea. The company built many of the facilities that North Korea wants to destroy.
North Korea is pushing hard to win broad sanctions relief to salvage its troubled economy. But the United States has maintained North Korea must first take significant steps toward denuclearization before getting big outside concessions. Their talks on the North’s nuclear program largely remain largely deadlocked since a second summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in Vietnam in February fell apart due to disputes over US-led UN sanctions on North Korea.