Asia Minute: U.S. Urges Caution on Inter-Korean Relations

Oct 18, 2018

North-South Korea Border
Credit Michael Day / Flickr

The United States and North Korea are quietly continuing talks about denuclearization. But South Korea’s government is moving faster toward cooperation on some projects with the North. And that’s drawing a reaction from the United States.

This week, the governments of North and South Korea announced they would rebuild railways and roads connecting the two countries — connections that were cut more than 60 years ago. A formal groundbreaking ceremony may take place sometime between the end of November and early December.

There are also plans to discuss other projects — including joint sports events, artistic performances, and even support for North Korean forests.

But the United States is signaling it would prefer the two countries slow things down a bit.

On Tuesday, a State Department official told Radio Free Asia “The improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot advance separately from resolving North Korea’s nuclear program.”

The next day U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris told a conference of security experts in Seoul that South Korea should stay “synchronized” with the United States.

Harris knows something about regional strategy. Less than four months ago, he was the head of U.S. Pacific Command.

Credit U.S. Pacific Fleet / U.S. Navy

Harris says the United States understands the desire to improve relations between the two Koreas, but added “this inter-Korean dialogue must remain linked to denuclearization.”

That caution extends to some South Korean media outlets.

On Wednesday, The Korea Herald published an editorial warning against “an illusion that permanent peace is at hand.” Adding that when it comes to relations with Pyongyang “we must guard against overblown optimism.”