By Kim Seung-yeon
SEOUL, Jan. 13 (Yonhap) -- Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha was set to leave for San Francisco on Monday for talks with her U.S. counterpart on key bilateral issues, including South Korea's possible contribution to protecting the Strait of Hormuz and peace efforts with North Korea.
Her planned meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, set for Tuesday (U.S. time), comes as Washington has stepped up calls for its allies to join a U.S.-led maritime security coalition to safeguard the strategically vital region off Iran.
The issue is expected to top the agenda, with tensions in the Middle East having spiked after Tehran launched a revenge missile attack on U.S. bases in Iraq last week in retaliation for the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general.
Kang and Pompeo last held one-on-one talks in Washington in March last year.
Seoul has been reviewing ways to participate but has largely been reserved about it, considering its trade relations with Iran, one of the countries bordering the key waterway responsible for more than 70 percent of South Korea's oil imports.
Observers say Seoul could send its anti-piracy Cheonghae unit operating off the Somali coast to the strait, instead of sending new troops.
On Friday, the foreign ministry in Seoul called in Iran's top envoy to lodge a protest over his remarks in a media interview warning of a negative impact on Seoul-Tehran ties if South Korea dispatches troops there.
In the upcoming talks, the two top diplomats are also expected to discuss the denuclearization talks with North Korea that have remained stalled since a 2018 summit in Hanoi of U.S. President Donald Trump and the North's leader Kim Jong-un ended without a deal.
Pyongyang made it clear in a commentary Saturday by its former nuclear envoy that the dialogue with Washington can only resume when the U.S. fully accepts its demands for concessions -- sanctions relief and security assurances.
The North then ridiculed South Korea's presidential office for trying to be a mediator between Washington and Pyongyang with the delivery of Trump's birthday message to Kim, warning it not to "meddle in" the relationship of the two leaders.
In San Francisco, Kang could also hold trilateral or bilateral talks with Pompeo and her Japanese counterpart, Toshimitsu Motegi, as the Japanese minister is also expected to travel to the U.S. city for talks with Pompeo.
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