South Korea's push for inter-Korean cooperation will be done in a way that can facilitate the denuclearization negotiations between the United States and North Korea, a senior presidential official said Saturday.
The official made the remark one day after the office of President Moon Jae-in openly reproached US Ambassador Harry Harris for his remarks on Moon's plans to resume inter-Korean cooperation, calling them "very inappropriate."
Amid concerns about the allies' friction over a possible mismatch in the progress of inter-Korean cooperation and denuclearization, the presidential official said the cooperation will "not be pushed in a way that undermines the bargaining power of either side."
"President Moon's blueprint unveiled at the New Year's press conference, such as the individual tours to the North, will in the end be carried out within the framework of denuclearization," the official said.
On Thursday, Harris reportedly urged Seoul to hold prior consultations with Washington in its pursuit of allowing its nationals to make individual tours of Mount Kumgang on North Korea's east coast.
Harris' remarks were viewed by many as a thinly veiled warning and an attempt to put pressure on the Moon administration as it seeks to jump-start inter-Korean projects that are unaffected by UN sanctions on the communist neighbor in a bid to help facilitate Pyongyang-Washington nuclear talks.
The presidential official, however, said it is an "exaggeration" to understand the ambassador's remarks as the US official viewpoint.
"If Harris' remarks reflected the official stance of the US, they wouldn't have conveyed it through the media," the official said.
In Washington, the State Department said Friday "the US supports inter-Korean cooperation and coordinates with our Republic of Korea ally to ensure inter-Korean cooperation proceeds in lockstep with progress on denuclearization."
Lee Do-hoon, Seoul's chief nuclear envoy, who is visiting Washington, also said the US has reaffirmed its support for improvement in inter-Korean relations.
"The US reaffirmed its support for improved South-North relations," Lee told reporters at a briefing, without offering details on Washington's stance on specific inter-Korean projects, such as Moon's interest in allowing individual tours to North Korea.
South Korea has said that individual tours do not fall under the scope of United Nations sanctions against North Korea.
While the US hasn't expressed its position on the individual tours publicly, it has been wary of any flow of resources to North Korea that could undermine its "maximum pressure" campaign against the regime. (Yonhap)