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The Real Obstacles To The Return Of Tourists To North Korea’s Mount Kumgang

Has the time come for South Korean tourists to return to Mount Kumgang? Will the United States use UN Security Council resolutions to block South Korea from resuming Mount Kumgang tourism? South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s reference to the resumption of Mount Kumgang and the Kaeseong Industrial Complex in his 2020 New Year’s address last month raised many such questions, few of which have easy answers.

South Koreans have tended to interpret Moon’s comments as an expression of impatience toward the United States, and South Korean media has closely watched the official U.S. response to Moon’s Mount Kumgang tourism trial balloon. This is in part because Moon himself has in the past suggested that progress in inter-Korean relations might have a positive catalytic effect on stalemated U.S.-North Korea dialogue.

This perception has been magnified by Korean media treatment of rather unremarkable public remarks made by U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris—that the resumption of Kumgang tourism would be a good topic for the U.S.-South Korea working group. Ambassador Harris’ remarks have been blown out of proportion within the South Korean media in an effort to mobilize concern that the United States might stand in the way of progress in inter-Korean relations. But as long as North Korea itself stands in the way of inter-Korean relations, including the resumption of Mount Kumgang tourism, the U.S. position on inter-Korean cooperation is a secondary concern at best.

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