By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is mulling ways to hold discussions with North Korea about allowing its people to travel to the communist nation on an individual basis, a unification ministry official said Monday, stressing the issue is not subject to international sanctions on Pyongyang.
Seoul's consideration of individual trips to North Korea gained traction after President Moon Jae-in last week cited them as a possible way to expand inter-Korean exchanges without violating U.N. sanctions on the North.
"We are reviewing various options on individual tours to North Korea, including how we will consult with the North over the issue," the official told reporters. "There will be matters to be discussed between the governments, including the security issue."
The push for greater exchanges with the North has sparked concern that Seoul and Washington may be at odds over the issue after U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris said last week that Seoul should be sure to hold prior consultations with Washington in its pursuit of inter-Korean exchange programs.
Stressing that such trips are not subject to either U.N. or U.S. sanctions imposed on North Korea, the official said South Korea shouldn't face stricter standards in allowing its people to travel to the North compared to other countries.
"From China to Japan, Australia, Europe and Canada, people from all over the world are individually traveling (to the North)," the official said. "I don't think it is either necessary or right to put stricter standards (when it comes to South Korea)."
Among the ways to pursue the individual tours are nonprofit organizations gathering visitors to travel to the inter-Korean border city of Kaesong or Mount Kumgang, or allowing citizens to visit other tourist destinations in the North via a third country.
But these options will be able to materialize only when North Korea responds to Seoul's offer for talks, the official said.
North Korea has ignored South Korea's repeated calls for dialogue and cooperation, criticizing Seoul for dragging its feet in seeking inter-Korean projects for fear of violating global sanctions.
In his New Year's press conference, Moon said South Korea will not sit idle waiting for Pyongyang-Washington dialogue to bear fruit and will expand inter-Korean cooperation to help the nuclear talks move forward.
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