(ATTN: ADDS comments by presidential chief of staff in last 4 paras)
By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, Jan. 16 (Yonhap) -- The unification ministry is making a list of joint projects that South Korea can pursue with North Korea regardless of international sanctions on the communist nation, an official said Thursday.
Earlier this week, President Moon Jae-in stressed the need to expand inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation, saying it would be conducive to enlisting international support for sanctions relief for Pyongyang and help facilitate nuclear talks between the North and the United States.
"We are making a list of what we can do on our own with regard to inter-Korean relations," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity. "How the North will respond will be of most importance so we will keep an eye on the North's attitude and accordingly draw up realistic measures."
The official did not provide further details on what projects will be included in the list.
The ministry earlier said that it is exploring the possibility of "individual trips" to North Korea, saying that they are not subject to global sanctions. The ministry believes such trips could be pursued actively if the safety of its people is guaranteed.
South Korea, in particular, has sought to resume now-suspended tours to Mount Kumgang on the North's east coast, but little progress has been made amid worries that their resumption could undercut global coordination to apply maximum pressure for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
Launched in 1998, the Mount Kumgang tour program was regarded as a key symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation. Group tours to the mountain have been suspended since 2008, when a South Korean traveler was shot dead by a North Korean guard.
North Korea has demanded South Korea remove its facilities, saying that it plans to build an international tourist zone of its own there. It has rejected Seoul's repeated offers for face-to-face talks on the fate of the mountain resort, insisting on discussions through exchange of documents.
Later Thursday, Noh Young-min, presidential chief of staff, also said South Koreans' tours to Mount Kumgang and individual trips across the border are not subject to U.N. sanctions.
"They can be implemented at any time and we are considering this," he said in a radio interview in response to a question on specific inter-Korean projects that Seoul had in mind.
"Inter-Korean relations and North Korea-U.S. ties impact each other and are linked with each other," Noh said. "I believe improving inter-Korean ties will help facilitate dialogue between North Korea and the U.S."
Noh said Seoul is "in close coordination" with Washington over U.N. and U.S. sanctions on North Korea, and added South Korea will actively engage in negotiations for exemptions from these sanctions when Seoul sees grounds for them.