(ATTN: UPDATES with remarks on China in last 5 paras)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Jan. 14 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in stressed the need Tuesday to expand inter-Korean cooperation, saying it could be conducive to drumming up international support for sanctions relief for the communist neighbor.
Speaking at his New Year's press conference, he made it clear that South Korea will not sit idle waiting for Pyongyang-Washington dialogue to bear fruit.
"If (we) broaden cooperative ties between South and North to the maximum, it would not only facilitate North Korea-U.S. dialogue but also help win international support in connection with some exemptions or exceptions to sanctions on North Korea," the president said.
If Pyongyang takes "substantive" denuclearization measures, the international community should take corresponding steps including sanctions relief, he added.
Both the U.S. and North Korea have an agreement on this, but at issue is the scope of sanctions to be eased or lifted and the preconditions for that, according to the president.
He said his administration's push for joint ventures with the North has made little progress due to the U.N. Security Council sanctions.
But there are some inter-Korean projects not subject to sanctions, such as individual tours, he added, apparently referring to the suspended tours by South Koreans at Mount Kumgang on the North's east coast.
Moon has already put forward various proposals for improving inter-Korean relations and creating the conditions for leader Kim Jong-un to visit the South.
He said Washington also needs to present "new ideas" to break the stalemate in denuclearization talks in close cooperation with Seoul.
Moon said there is not much time left as the U.S. is drawing nearer to November's presidential polls.
He nonetheless emphasized that it is too early to be gloomy about the future of the Korea peace process.
"I think we are not for now at the stage of being pessimistic about South-North dialogue and North Korea-U.S. dialogue, although it's not a stage be optimistic," he said.
He mentioned President Donald Trump's birthday greetings to the North Korean leader, which were sent in a personal letter, describing the message as a token of a close personal relationship that is still alive.
Even if dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington is not active, Trump and Kim maintain their mutual trust and efforts for the resumption of talks are under way, Moon added.
He also said the government is continuing a push to expand inter-Korean cooperation with an "optimistic prospect" of progress.
Responding to a question about China, Moon said its role is crucial for a resolution to the North Korea nuclear issue.
He requested Beijing's continued "help" until the complete denuclearization of Korea and establishment of permanent peace.
In particular, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang are scheduled to visit South Korea later this year on separate occasions.
"I believe it will become an opportunity for South Korea-China relations to make an epoch-making leap," he said, adding the government will accelerate a campaign to harmonize China's Belt and Road Initiative and South Korea's New Southern Policy and New Northern Policy.