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Unification minister vows to restart Korea peace process in cooperation with Biden administration

North Korea 16:59 January 21, 2021

By Yi Wonju

SEOUL, Jan. 21 (Yonhap) -- Unification Minister Lee In-young said Thursday he will seek to advance the Korean Peninsula peace process and come up with realistic solutions for North Korean denuclearization in cooperation with the new U.S. administration.

Lee made the remark during a report to President Moon Jae-in about the ministry's policy plans and goals for this year, just hours after new U.S. President Joe Biden was sworn in.

During the report, Lee laid out the ministry's five main tasks for this year, including its plans on restoring communication lines with the North and seeking ways to improve inter-Korean relations.

"The ministry will seek realistic solutions for the North Korean nuclear issue in consultation with the U.S. and cooperation with the foreign ministry and ensure the momentum for progress in denuclearization and the peace regime through improvement in inter-Korean relations," he said.

The ministry said it will also seek communication with the U.S. as the Biden administration reviews its policy on North Korea.

Earlier in the week, Biden's secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said the new administration will review the country's "entire approach and policy" toward North Korea and work with its allies, including South Korea, to deal with risks posed by countries such as the North.

"We will strengthen communication with the new U.S. administration and other major countries via various channels to foster an international setting favorable to peace in the Korean Peninsula," Lee said.

The ministry vowed to cooperate with the North in the field of public health, including joint efforts to ward off the coronavirus.

Pyongyang, however, has remained unresponsive to Seoul's calls for cooperation in cross-border projects and has recently accused Seoul of pretending to take interest in such "nonessential issues."

The ministry also plans to utilize the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and possible South Korea-U.S. summit talks as opportunities to drive up the peace process. The Tokyo Olympics were seen as an opportunity to resume talks with the North as was the case with the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which led to the historic first-ever summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Admitting the lack of progress in fulfilling the Panmunjom Declaration and in inter-Korean relations since the breakdown of nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang in Hanoi in 2019, the minister also vowed to improve cross-border ties.

The minister said his office will work to restore the inter-Korean communication lines that remain severed after the North blew up the joint liaison office in the border town of Kaesong in June last year. The North's unilateral decision came in anger over the flying of anti-Pyongyang leaflets into the North by North Korean defectors and activists.

"We will foremost seek the restoration of inter-Korean communication lines with the goal of creating a consultative body for communication in a step-by-step manner," the minister said.

Inter-Korean relations have been stalled since the no-deal summit between Kim and Trump in 2019. The two sides were far apart over how far Pyongyang should denuclearize in order for Washington to offer concessions.

Unification Minister Lee In-young speaks during a meeting of the inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation council at the government complex in Seoul on Jan. 14, 2021. (Yonhap)

julesyi@yna.co.kr
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