By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, Nov. 24 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s push to declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War and the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing are two separate issues, a top official in charge of inter-Korean relations said Wednesday, amid concerns that the U.S. move to boycott the games could throw a wet blanket on Seoul’s peace initiative.
Unification Minister Lee In-young made the remark during a press conference in Seoul, after U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday that Washington was mulling a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics in February.
South Korea has been considering the Beijing Games as one of the opportunities to restart the inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea talks that remain stalled since the collapse of the 2019 Hanoi summit.
“I don’t think we need to analyze or approach the Beijing Olympics and the end-of-war declaration as inseparable issues,” the minister told reporters. “We do hope the Beijing Olympics will be a peace Olympics, but I hope you don’t think that what happens to the Beijing Olympics necessarily affects the end-of-war declaration.”
A senior ministry official said later it would be best to sign the declaration before the Olympics, and that consultations with the U.S. are in their final stages.
“When the South Korea-U.S. working-level consultations wrap up, we will propose the idea to the North,” the official said on condition of anonymity, declining to give further details, such as when or how Seoul will reach out to Pyongyang.
The North has remained unresponsive to U.S. overtures for talks, demanding Washington first retract what it calls “double standards” and “hostile policy” against its regime.
The minister again urged the North to respond to calls for dialogue and said Seoul will make utmost efforts to resume the face-to-face reunions of families separated by the Korean War on the occasion of the Lunar New Year, called Seol in Korean, early next year.
On the possible COVID-19 vaccine provision to North Korea, the senior official, who asked not to be named, said the issue is currently not on the table, as South Korea is focusing on administering booster shots to its citizens.
For its part, the North will have to consider the type and amount of the vaccines before accepting any proposal for assistance, the official said.
“The North could think that accepting 2 million or 3 million doses from the international community falls far short of what it needs in return for opening the border,” the official said, referring to the country’s border lockdown to stave off the coronavirus.