U.S. urges inter-Korean projects be in line with denuclearization progress

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U.S. urges inter-Korean projects be in line with denuclearization progress

The U.S. State Department said that inter-Korean cooperation has to come in “lockstep” with progress on denuclearization after President Moon Jae-in expressed Seoul’s intentions to pursue a joint railway project with Pyongyang.  
 
President Moon Jae-in on Monday, marking the second anniversary of his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, stressed intentions to move forward with inter-Korean initiatives including a project to connect South-North roads and railways and a coronavirus response.  
 
“The United States supports inter-Korean cooperation,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in statement quoted by the Voice of America Monday, and “coordinates with our ROK ally to ensure inter-Korean cooperation proceeds in lockstep with progress on denuclearization.” ROK stands for the Republic of Korea.  
 
Denuclearization negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have been deadlocked over the past year since the second summit between North Korean leader Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump collapsed in February 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. Seoul has indicated inter-Korean initiatives could happen simultaneously with and encourage progress in denuclearization.
 
South Korea on Monday marked the second anniversary of the Panmunjom Declaration of April 27, 2018, with a groundbreaking ceremony in Jejin Station in Goseong County, Gangwon, to eventually reconnect a railway severed during the 1950-53 Korean War.
 
Moon said in a meeting with senior aides at the Blue House that day that Seoul will seek “realistic and practical ways” for inter-Korean cooperation.  
 
Seoul’s top nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon and U.S. State Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, who doubles as the special representative for North Korea, held a phone call Tuesday morning to discuss recent developments in Pyongyang.  
 
They also “exchanged views on ways for the two countries to cooperate to make substantive progress in achieving complete denuclearization and establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula,” according to the Korean Foreign Ministry.
 
The latest U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) report notes that Seoul favors earlier concession to the North than Washington, but that international and U.S. sanctions “prevent Moon from doing more without U.S. approval, which has contributed to periodic tensions.”
 
The report also describes, "Policy cooperation between the United States and South Korea has been inconsistent under the administrations of Donald Trump and Moon Jae-in.”
 
The two sides “generally have managed to navigate differences” on trade and North Korea policy, according to the report, but “underlying tensions continue to surface on a range of issues” and have “failed to reach a compromise” on the defense cost-sharing agreement.
 
Seoul reportedly offered a 13 percent increase as the two allies tried to sign a new bilateral Special Measures Agreement (SMA) on the upkeep of some 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in Korea after their previous deal expired at the end of last year. But Trump said last week that he rejected Seoul’s offer.
 
The report described that the Trump administration has demanded Seoul increase its payments by 400 percent, and the president “publicly said it is debatable whether the U.S. troop presence is in U.S. interests.”
 
Washington is looking for "further compromise" from Seoul in their defense cost-sharing negotiations, according to the U.S. State Department in a separate statement Monday.  
 
BY SARAH KIM   [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
 
 

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