By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, March 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's chief nuclear envoy on Monday stressed that his country is a "key player" in denuclearization and peace-building efforts in the region, as he headed to Russia for consultations on the matter.
Lee Do-hoon, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, was responding to skepticism about South Korea's role amid concerns that the summit-driven process will lose steam.
Two-day talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi late last month finished with no agreement.
The Moon Jae-in administration of South Korea, credited with having played a leading role in creating the dialogue mood, hopes to facilitate the resumption of Pyongyang-Washington negotiations.
In recent weeks, South Korean officials formally described Seoul's role as a "facilitator," not a "mediator" or "arbiter."
North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui played down Seoul's stature, reportedly saying it is just a "player, not an arbiter."
Speaking to some foreign reporters in Pyongyang last week, she was also quoted as saying Kim will soon decide whether to continue dialogue in consideration of Washington's attitude.
Asked about Choe's remarks, Lee said his government is a "key player."
"At this moment, I think, it's important to have close consultations with other countries, join hands and resolve the problem," he told reporters shortly before his departure for Russia.
He plans to meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, who serves as the country's top nuclear negotiator, in St. Petersburg on Tuesday (local time).
Lee added he will also travel to China and Japan in the near future, while maintaining close coordination with U.S. officials.
Recently, he pointed out that Russia had high-level contact with North Korea relatively often.
On Wednesday, Lee is scheduled to fly to Brussels to attend a session of the European Union's Political and Security Committee, and meet with Helga Schmid, secretary general of the European External Action Service.
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