South Korea and the United States made progress in their consultations Friday on a temporary sanctions waiver for planned video reunions of separated Korean families, which would allow Seoul to bring related equipment into the communist neighbor, a diplomatic source has said.
The two sides held their first "working group" session on pending issues related to North Korea since the unsuccessful Hanoi summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
In the meeting held in Washington DC on Thursday (local time), South Korea was represented by Rhee Dong-yeol, director general of the foreign ministry's Korean Peninsula peace regime bureau. His counterpart was Alex Wong, deputy assistant secretary of state for North Korea.
Last week, a sanctions panel of the United Nations Security Council granted an exemption for sanctions on the shipment of image-sending equipment to North Korea for video reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
The US had its own domestic procedures left to approve the waiver.
"(The South Korean government) has become able to push for video reunions in earnest, as consultations (with the US) on the issue of taking materials for video reunions to North Korea have been completed," the source said.
The allies also discussed a sanctions waiver for goods to be used for an inter-Korean project to excavate historic relics in the Manwoldae site in the North's border town of Kaesong, the source added.
Seoul plans to apply for the UN committee's approval for the move as well.
The US, however, apparently expressed reservations about a recent request by South Korean businesspeople to visit a shuttered industrial park in the North's border town of Kaesong.
The unification ministry said that Washington hoped to continue to discuss such issues related to inter-Korean cooperation in tandem with progress in denuclearization in talks.
Last week, 179 people asked for government permission to visit the factory park and check the equipment and facilities they left behind when the complex was closed in 2016 amid nuclear and missile tensions. It is their eighth attempt to visit there since its closure.
The ministry handling inter-Korean affairs said that it will take into consideration the outcome of the working group meeting before making a decision on the request.
In a two-paragraph press release on the results of the working group meeting, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not mention the specific sanctions issues.
The two sides discussed various pending issues including post-Hanoi summit steps, inter-Korean cooperation and South Korea-US relations, it said.
"Under the shared goal of complete denuclearization, the two sides will closely consult on ways to develop South-North relations in the direction of contributing to the resumption of North Korea-US negotiations," the ministry added.
During a press briefing, State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino said, "(The two sides have) shared updates on efforts to achieve our shared goal of final, fully verified denuclearization, including through the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions."
He added, "(They have) reaffirmed their commitment to continue regularly hosting these consultations and coordinations as alliance partners."
In New York, US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun held meetings with members of the UN Security Council to provide a briefing on the Hanoi talks.
The topic of sanctions implementation was also discussed there, Palladino said.
The summit ended without an agreement due to differences over the scope of North Korea's denuclearization and sanctions relief from the US
Earlier this week, Biegun, who is in charge of day-to-day negotiations with Pyongyang, said the US will not remove sanctions until the process of denuclearization is complete.
South Korea has been pushing for sanctions exemptions as part of efforts to resume inter-Korean economic projects -- mainly a joint industrial complex in Kaesong and a tour program to the scenic Mount Kumgang, both in the North.
Such economic incentives could spur North Korea's denuclearization, it says. (Yonhap)