The Koreas | Diplomacy | East Asia

North Korea Refuses Meeting With South Over Resort Demolition Plan

Kim Jong Un wants to remove South Korean-made facilities at Mount Kumgang, once a symbol of inter-Korean exchanges.

By Kim Tong-Hyung for
North Korea Refuses Meeting With South Over Resort Demolition Plan
Credit: Cheong Wa Dae

North Korea on Tuesday rejected South Korea’s request for working-level talks to discuss the possible demolition of South Korean-made hotels and other facilities at the North’s Mount Kumgang resort that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants removed.

In letters addressed to Seoul’s Unification Ministry and South Korea’s Hyundai business group, North Korea said face-to-face meetings would be unnecessary and repeated its stance that details should be worked out through document exchanges, the ministry said.

The South on Monday proposed a working-level meeting with North Korea, days after the North formally demanded that the South Koreans come to Mount Kumgang at an agreed-upon date to clear out their facilities.

During a visit to the site last week, Kim ordered the destruction of South Korean-built facilities he described as “shabby” and “unpleasant looking,” apparently because Seoul won’t defy U.S.-led international sanctions and resume South Korean tours at the site. The North later proposed an exchange of documents to work out details.

The Unification Ministry didn’t immediately say whether it would make further demands for meetings with the North.

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South Korea’s government has said it will seek “creative solutions” to the problem based on political considerations and inter-Korean discussions. It’s unclear whether South Korea will agree to destroy any of its facilities or seek ways to partially resume tours amid sanctions to defuse the North’s anger.

Tours to Mount Kumgang were a major symbol of cooperation between the Koreas and a valuable cash source for the North’s broken economy before the South suspended them in 2008 after a North Korean guard fatally shot a South Korean tourist.

Seoul can’t restart mass tours to Mount Kumgang or any other major inter-Korean economic activity without defying U.S.-led international sanctions against North Korea, which have been strengthened since 2016, when the North began accelerating its nuclear and missile tests. While U.N. sanctions don’t directly ban tourism, they prohibit bulk cash transfers that can result from business activities like the Mount Kumgang tours.

Kim’s order to tear down South Korean properties at Mount Kumgang comes during a prolonged freeze in relations with South Korea and deals a major setback to liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who met Kim three times last year while expressing ambitions to reboot inter-Korean economic engagement when possible.

The prospects for that have dimmed amid deadlocked nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang. Talks have faltered since the collapse of a February summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in Vietnam, where the Americans rejected the North’s demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

In a speech in Azerbaijan, Choe Ryong Hae, considered the second-most powerful official in North Korea, blamed South Korea’s “reliance on foreign forces” for setbacks in inter-Korean relations, echoing earlier calls by Pyongyang for Seoul to break away from Washington and restart economic engagement between the Koreas.

Choe also said the standstill in nuclear negotiations has put the Korean Peninsula at a crossroads between peace and a “touch-and-go crisis” and demanded that the Trump administration remove its “hostile” policy of sanctions and pressure on the North, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday.

By Kim Tong-Hyung for the Associated Press.