SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- South Korea says it will aim to improve inter-Korean relations as a means of enabling engagement between Washington and Pyongyang.
Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae Hyun on Wednesday reaffirmed Seoul's position that the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games next month could serve as a momentum to defuse tensions surrounding the Korean Peninsula.
This comes amid skepticism from Washington officials regarding South and North Korea's recent shift toward dialogue, after the North's leader Kim Jong Un appeared to extend an olive branch to Seoul while renewing the threat that it has the nuclear capability to strike the U.S. mainland.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Naeurt said Tuesday that the North seems to be "trying to drive a wedge" between Washington and Seoul.
If South Korea decides to have dialogue with the North, that is their choice, she said.
However, the U.S. government is skeptical of Kim's sincerity in holding talks and has not changed its policy toward the North, according to Naeurt.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that Washington maintains its policy of exerting maximum pressure on Pyongyang until it gives up its nukes, ABC News reported.
Responding to concerns from the U.S., the South Korean Unification Ministry official assured that Seoul will try to enable engagement and talks on denuclearization between Washington and Pyongyang by strengthening inter-Korean ties through the Olympics.
He said the U.S. has been the South's ally for 65 years" and that "the two sides have closely cooperated on all issues related to the Korean Peninsula."
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha spoke to her U.S. counterpart Rex Tillerson on Wednesday, reaffirming their commitment "to cooperating and coordinating policies regarding North Korea and its nuclear program" while "actively responding to situations on the Korean Peninsula through closer and more frequent communication," Yonhap reported.