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The road to the denuclearization of North Korea is getting bumpier due to discrepancies between South Korea and the United States. The State Department on Tuesday announced that Washington had agreed with Seoul to set up a joint working group to reinforce efforts to implement sanctions on North Korea toward the goal of denuclearization. But the State Department hurriedly announced it — even before Steve Biegun, the new U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy, returned home on Wednesday after a trip to South Korea.

Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave an ambiguous explanation for the establishment of a joint working group. Blue House spokesperson Kim Eui-kyum said, “I heard that the joint working group aims to further discuss the overall aspects of the denuclearization and peace process on the Korean Peninsula.” His remarks sounded like those of an outsider.

Washington has been closely checking inter-Korean cooperation. Last month, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul made phone calls to four South Korean conglomerates to ask them about their inter-Korean projects. Heads of those four companies joined President Moon Jae-in on his trip to North Korea for his third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The embassy also contacted the Korea Forest Service, which has been pushing a plan to plant trees on bare mountains across North Korea.

Mark Lambert, deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department, met with more than 10 officials of local companies involved in inter-Korean businesses. Such actions by Uncle Sam could be seen as an infringement of our sovereignty. They can also serve as a warning to the Moon administration about inter-Korean exchanges.

The idea of establishing a working group was allegedly proposed by our Foreign Ministry. In an international conference on aiding North Korea in Seoul on Wednesday, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said the government will cooperate with North Korea to eradicate harmful insects and infectious diseases. The government is also poised to press ahead with a joint site inspection to reconnect inter-Korean railways and roads along the West and East Coast. Those projects will likely violate sanctions. That’s why our government must coordinate with Washington through the working group. It would be best for the government to pursue the denuclearization and peace process based on close cooperation with our ally.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 1, Page 30
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