State Department reiterates support for Korea-U.S. working group

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State Department reiterates support for Korea-U.S. working group

The U.S. State Department reiterated its support for its working group with South Korea on policy regarding the North, in response to a proposal from Seoul’s top inter-Korean official to restructure the consultative body between the two allies.

Newly appointed Minister of Unification Lee In-young made his boldest move yet on Tuesday, when during a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris he called for restructuring the South Korea-U.S. working group, a body established to coordinate North Korea policy between the two countries.  
While Lee suggested the allies “readjust and upgrade” the working group to a “2.0” version, he also noted there were matters regarding the North that South Korea should pursue independently of U.S. input.  
The response from Washington to this proposal appeared not to be phrased as a rejection, but nonetheless affirmed the validity of the working group in its current form.
“The United States and the Republic of Korea regularly coordinate on diplomatic efforts, on the implementation and enforcement of sanctions and on inter-Korean cooperation," said a State Department spokesperson, according to Yonhap News Agency.
In his short public statement, Harris on Tuesday said Washington supported inter-Korean cooperation as well as “finding ways to do so through the working group, as this plays an important role in creating a more secure and stable environment.”
The issue of the working group highlights a long-standing dissonance between Seoul and Washington over approaches to North Korea.  
The body, many liberals in Seoul argue, has served as a means for the United States to constrain South Korea’s diplomatic options and keep the country in line with the U.S.-led sanctions policy against the North.  
The allies’ disagreement became particularly pronounced in the aftermath of the collapse of the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February 2019. The failed summit dashed hopes for an immediate settlement on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons following months of detente on the peninsula.  
With negotiations in a continuous limbo, Pyongyang took to bashing Seoul for what it characterized as the South’s failure to uphold inter-Korean agreements due to its subservience to Washington. This also became the regime’s rationale for severing ties with the South earlier this year and demolishing an inter-Korean liaison office.  
Called in to repair damaged inter-Korean ties, Lee has been vocal about asserting Seoul’s right to pursue exchanges with the North independent of the working group — so as long as those initiatives remain within the bounds of international sanctions on the North.

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