South Korea Should Consult U.S. on North Korea Tours, Envoy Says

Jihye Lee

(Bloomberg) -- South Korea’s push to allow for private tourism to North Korea should be discussed with the U.S., said Ambassador Harry Harris, who added the visits are technically possible.

“Tourism is allowed under sanctions, but what you take with you when you tour, some of those things might not be allowed under those sanctions,” the U.S. envoy to South Korea told reporters Thursday after President Moon Jae-in raised the proposal earlier this week. Harris said consultations with a designated U.S. government body should take place to “avoid misunderstandings.”

Moon said at a news conference in Seoul on Tuesday that individual tourism is not restricted by international sanctions and he’s willing to “seek approval from the United Nations for exceptions when it comes to cooperation between South and North Korea.”

Tourism allows cash-starved North Korea to obtain hard currency and significant flows of money to Kim’s regime could undermine President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign to squeeze its economy through sanctions.

Harris also said that the U.S. has made adjustments in its request for funding from South Korea to host U.S. troops and was looking for Seoul to do the same -- without mentioning any specific figures. His comments came after U.S. and South Korean negotiators failed to reach an agreement at their latest defense cost-sharing talks held in Washington, with the two sides saying there is still a “difference in stances,” according to a statement from South Korea’s foreign ministry.

Their current deal technically expired at the start of the year and the tension over the new terms has raised questions about one of the U.S.’s closest military alliances and a key piece of the Pentagon’s strategy for countering North Korea and a rising China. There has been no major change to the U.S. military presence in the country as they two sides meet to discuss a new deal.

U.S. Walks Out of Military Cost-Sharing Talks With South Korea

Trump has demanded South Korea contribute about $5 billion for hosting about 28,500 U.S. military personnel, well above the current one-year deal where Seoul pays about $1 billion. The price tag originated with the White House, according to people familiar with the matter, and administration officials justify it by saying it reflects the costs South Korea would incur if it takes operational control of combined U.S.-South Korean forces in the case of a conflict.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jihye Lee in Seoul at jlee2352@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Jon Herskovitz, Chris Kay

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