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Seoul official discussed North Korea tourism in Washington

Seoul official discussed North Korea tourism in Washington
South Korea's deputy national security adviser returned from an unannounced trip to Washington on Friday, according to South Korean press reports. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE

Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Two senior South Korean officials made trips to Washington this week to discuss inter-Korea cooperation with White House officials, according to South Korean press reports.

Kim Hyun-chong, Seoul's deputy national security adviser, returned from unannounced meetings with White House aides on Friday, after talks on Wednesday and Thursday, South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh reported.

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Kim may have discussed the objectives of Seoul's pursuit of inter-Korea cooperation, including tourism to North Korea's Mount Kumgang, following a similar discussion between Choi Jong-kun, President Moon Jae-in's secretary for peace and planning, and White House officials.

Kim, who oversaw the renegotiation of U.S.-South Korea trade agreements in previous administrations, may have also discussed the unresolved issue of defense burden sharing between the two sides, according to the Hankyoreh.

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U.S. demands that South Korea pay as much $5 billion annually, or five times the current amount, may no longer be an issue, but a wide gap remains, the report says.

White House Asia policy adviser Matt Pottinger may have met with Kim, who reportedly explained to U.S. officials Moon's independent tourism initiative for South Korean tourists is not in violation of United Nations Security Council sanctions. Kim may have also said South Korean independent tourism could have a positive impact on stalled U.S.-North Korea talks on denuclearization, according to South Korean newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun.

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U.S. and South Korean officials of a working-level group are expected to reconvene discussions on Monday in South Korea.

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Moon has advocated tourism to the North. Last month during a New Year's press conference, the South Korean leader had said there is a need to promote inter-Korea cooperation, regardless of the status of U.S.-North Korea dialogue. There is also a need to advance U.S.-North Korea talks, Moon had said in January.

Alex Wong, deputy assistant secretary for North Korea at the U.S. State Department, is expected to be present at the dialogue in Seoul next week.

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