SEOUL – South Korea said Wednesday that it would press ahead with its plan to open a diplomatic “liaison office” in North Korea this year, dismissing concerns that it was too quickly making overtures to the North Koreans, who have yet to begin dismantling their nuclear weapons program.
When South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, held his first summit meeting with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, in April, they agreed to establish a joint liaison office — a potential first step toward building formal diplomatic missions — in the North Korean border town of Kaesong.
In a speech last Wednesday, Moon said the opening of the office was imminent.
“In a few days,” he said, “an era in which the two Koreas communicate with each other around the clock will commence.”
But the conservative political opposition and the conservative news media in the South have since raised fears that Moon’s government is creating a rift with Washington by advancing inter-Korean relations when North Korea has taken no clear steps toward denuclearization. They also questioned whether fuel oil and electricity, which the South plans to supply the office, would violate U.N. sanctions.
Moon’s office characterized those concerns as mere “quibbling,” given that 24 nations, including Britain and Germany, operate embassies in Pyongyang, the North’s capital.
“I don’t think it will be a big obstacle blocking the mighty stream” of diplomatic efforts engaging North Korea, said Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman for Moon.
South Korea’s foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, said Tuesday that Seoul was still waiting for a “satisfactory” endorsement of the plan from Washington. Local news media interpreted her comment as an indication that there were differences between the allies about opening the liaison office.
Moon has emphasized that he will coordinate closely with Washington on any effort to improve relations with the North and rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons. Moon met with the North Korean leader twice this year to help lay the groundwork for Kim’s historic summit meeting with President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.
Moon is scheduled to visit Pyongyang next month for his third summit meeting with Kim.