Asia Pacific

South Korea offers to send team to check on buildings at North's Diamond Mountain resort


South Korea has offered to send a delegation to check on South Korean-built facilities at a long-stalled joint tourist resort in North Korea, Seoul said Wednesday, as the North is pushing to tear them down.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently ordered the destruction of South Korean-made hotels and other facilities at the North’s Diamond Mountain resort, saying they appear “shabby” and “unpleasant-looking.”

Seoul’s Unification Ministry sent a message Tuesday proposing that a delegation be dispatched to conduct safety checks on those facilities, but ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min said North Korea has not yet responded. He said the dates for a delegation’s trip to the mountain could be determined through consultations with North Korea.

South Korea earlier proposed face-to-face talks on the issue, but North Korea rejected the offer and insisted on document exchanges.

South Korean-run tours to the mountain resort, once a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation projects, were halted in 2008 when a North Korean soldier fatally shot a South Korean tourist who the North says entered a restricted area. The tours had been a source of hard currency for the impoverished country.

The latest development on the mountain tours comes amid a standstill in a U.S.-led diplomacy drive aimed at depriving North Korea of its nuclear weapons. North Korea had earlier called for the tours to be restarted, but South Korea couldn’t do so while international sanctions remain in place over the North’s nuclear program.

Pyongyang said Tuesday that the U.S. re-designation of it as a sponsor of terrorism is dimming prospects for nuclear diplomacy between the countries.

North Korea has been escalating its pressures on the United States over a stalemate in nuclear negotiations. Last week, North Korea test-fired projectiles from what it called a newly developed “superlarge” multiple rocket launcher in the country’s first weapons test in about a month.

The North’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday the State Department’s terrorism blacklist report, released last week, proves again the United States maintains a “hostile policy” and “inveterate repugnancy” toward North Korea.

“This is an insult to and perfidy against a dialogue partner,” said the statement, carried by state media. “The channel of the dialogue between (North Korea) and the U.S. is more and more narrowing” due to the U.S. stance.

North Korea had been on the terrorism blacklist for two decades after its agents were blamed for the bombing of a South Korean airliner that killed 115 people in 1987. It was de-listed in 2008 as Washington tried to entice North Korea into a nuclear deal. But the Trump administration relisted it in 2017, saying the North repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism. The most glaring recent case was the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half brother of leader Kim Jong Un, using VX nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in 2017.

Last year, North Korea and the United States launched on-and-off diplomacy on what terms North Korea would give up its advancing nuclear arsenal. But the talks largely have stalled since the second summit between Kim and President Donald Trump, held in Hanoi, collapsed in February due to disputes over sanctions. Negotiators met in Stockholm last month but made no meaningful progress.

South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers in a closed-door meeting Monday it expects the U.S.-North Korea talks to resume by early December at the latest.