The suspended tourism program to North Korea's Mount Kumgang will likely be the first to be resumed in a post-sanctions era, President Moon Jae-in said Monday, while also asking the country's Buddhist leaders to consider resuming an exchange program with their North Korean peers.
In a meeting with the country's top religious leaders, the president said the resumption of a temple stay program at a North Korean Buddhist temple in Mount Kumgang may help restart the people's exchange with the North.
"When we start economic cooperation between the South and the North, the easiest we can start will probably be the tours to Mount Kumgang, and if the temple stay (program) at Singye Temple could begin before the tours to Mount Kumgang can be resumed in a similar scale as that of the past, it will have the meaning of first reopening the path to Mount Kumgang," Moon was quoted as telling the meeting held at his office Cheong Wa Dae.
South Korean tours to Mount Kumgang have been suspended since 2008, when a South Korean female tourist was shot and killed by a North Korean guard there.
Moon has said the tour program, along with any other joint economic projects with the communist North, may be restarted only after the North removes itself from U.N. Security Council sanctions by giving up its nuclear ambitions.
Moon expressed hope the North's denuclearization process will further move forward following the second meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un next week.
"We expect to see great progress toward denuclearization (of North Korea) and normalization of North Korea-U.S. relations from the second North Korea-U.S. summit to be held next week," the president told the meeting attended by the leaders of seven major faiths here, including Catholics, Protestants and Buddhists.
President Moon expressed hope the second Trump-Kim meeting will lead to "specific and visible" denuclearization steps.
"It has been less than one year since the first inter-Korean summit. We are making such great progress in such a short period of time, and I believe the progress will continue in the future," he said in his closing remarks, according to a Cheong Wa Dae spokesman.
"I hope you will continue to lend your support so peace on the Korean Peninsula will lead to prosperity that benefits all," he said earlier, according to Cheong Wa Dae pool reports.
Monday's meeting marked the second of its kind since Moon took office in May 2017. The president hosted the religious leaders in a meeting in December that year.
The president asked the religious leaders to help unite his nation.
Such a request comes amid an apparently widening divide between conservatives and liberals, as well as the rich and the poor.
"What our ancestors dreamed of was a truly democratic republic. A nation where all people are equally well off and coexist in peace. I hope to realize this dream with our people," the president said.
To this end, Moon asked the religious leaders to help successfully commemorate the 100th anniversary of the March First independence movement, noting the 1919 movement itself was organized and staged by 33 leaders and followers of different faiths.
"Such history of alliance and cooperation (of people) that is nearly unprecedented in the world was realized by the devotion and sacrifice of the religious circle. It is something we may all be proud of," the president said.
"I ask the religious leaders who are here to share their wisdom and also help open the path to the integration of our people," he added. (Yonhap)