Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said Tuesday that South Korea is working hard to help restart the stalled nuclear talks between North Korea and the United States, believing that progress in their negotiations will be key to improving inter-Korean relations.
"The resumption of U.S.-North Korea negotiations is an important priority," Kim told a meeting with foreign journalists in Seoul. "In order to make progress on inter-Korean talks for peace and mutual prosperity on the Peninsula, the U.S.-North Korea relations should make progress as well,"
"The unification ministry is exerting its utmost efforts to set conditions for the resumption of U.S.-North Korea dialogue through inter-Korean relations," Kim added.
Nuclear talks between North Korea and the U.S. have been stalled since their February summit ended without a deal as they failed to find common ground over Pyongyang's denuclearization steps and Washington's sanctions relief.
The scant progress in denuclearization negotiations is taking its toll on inter-Korean relations, putting a brake on major cross-border cooperative projects for months.
Seoul is pushing to break the deadlock in denuclearization talks by holding an inter-Korean summit with North Korea but Pyongyang has been mum on the offer for dialogue.
Asked whether President Moon Jae-in could hold a fourth summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump's Seoul visit later this month, the minister said the possibility remains open.
"We have the experience of holding an inter-Korean summit swiftly depending on the need, and we can say that many circumstances exist allowing that to be possible at present," he said, according to pool reports, referring to last year's second summit between Moon and Kim.
That summit, held on May 26, took place at the North Korean side of the border village of Panmunjom just a couple of days after the North first proposed it.
The minister also emphasized the importance of cross-border economic cooperation, which he expects to help build lasting peace and achieve mutual prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.
"The inter-Korean economic cooperation not only facilitates settlement of lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula but also creates an opportunity for co-prosperity between the two Koreas," he said.
Seoul hopes that economic cooperation with North Korea can foster a peace mood, which it expects would also intensify the pace of cross-border exchanges down the road.
Full-blown cross-border economic cooperation, however, has been constrained by global sanctions Washington wants to keep in place until North Korea completely gives up its nuclear weapons.
"For full-fledged inter-Korean economic cooperation, setting the right conditions is very important," Kim said. "To set the conditions, progress in denuclearization negotiations and corresponding lifting of sanctions should take place together."
Kim said more people are agreeing that the denuclearization issue should be resolved simultaneously and in parallel, not by the "denuclearization first" approach.
"I think now is the time, as various efforts are made to resume the negotiations, for both the U.S. and North Korea to think about what should be done to restore the trust which has been undermined," he said.
Regarding Seoul's push to provide food aid to the North, Kim said there is a certain level of "shared understanding" between South Korea and the United States over the issue.(Yonha)