(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 4, 7, 21)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, July 8 (Yonhap) -- The United States "strongly" supports cooperation between South and North Korea, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said Wednesday, calling it an "important component" in fostering stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Biegun also underscored America's pledge to be "fully engaged" in efforts to promote peace and its "ironclad" security commitment to the South while reiterating an appeal for dialogue with the recalcitrant North.
The U.S. envoy made these remarks after back-to-back talks with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young and Seoul's top nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, during his trip here seen as an effort to revive stalled nuclear diplomacy with Pyongyang.
"The United States strongly supports inter-Korean cooperation, and we believe this plays an important component in creating a more stable environment on the Korean Peninsula," Biegun told reporters after talks with Lee. Biegun doubles as the top U.S. nuclear envoy.
"We look forward to fully supporting the government of the Republic of Korea as it advances its goals with North Korea in inter-Korean cooperation," he added.
Biegun's remarks came amid speculation that Washington may be uneasy about Seoul's eagerness for inter-Korean cooperation projects amid the absence of substantive progress in the efforts to denuclearize the North.
The South has pursued such projects as the reconnection of cross-border roads and railways, and individual tours to the North. The U.S. had stressed that development in inter-Korean ties should go in lockstep with progress on the denuclearization front.
At the same press meeting, Seoul's nuclear envoy, Lee, stressed that Biegun had reaffirmed the U.S.' "flexible" position.
"Representative Biegun reaffirmed that the U.S. has a flexible position with an eye to reaching a balanced agreement when dialogue with the North resumes, and pledged to continue related efforts," Lee said.
The U.S. envoy used the press availability to highlight Washington's "ironclad" security commitment to the South.
His trip here followed a rise in tensions caused by North Korea's recent demolition of an inter-Korean liaison office, bellicose threats and rhetoric, as well as speculation that the U.S. may try to cut troop levels in South Korea over defense cost negotiations.
"I want to assure all who have any questions about this: U.S. commitment is ironclad for the defense of the Korean Peninsula," Biegun told reporters after talks with Vice Foreign Minister Cho.
"We continue that strong commitment. Our United States military, (and) our United States government are fully in partnership of the alliance of Korea, and it's a great pleasure to reaffirm today in my meetings with Vice Minster Cho," he added.
Biegun also took a swipe at North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui and former hawkish U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton while apparently alluding to their remarks against engagement between Washington and Pyongyang.
"Both are locked in an old way of thinking, focused on only the negatives and what is impossible, rather than thinking creatively about what is possible," Biegun said.
In addition, Biegun reiterated that the U.S. is ready to resume negotiations with the North at any time.
"When Chairman Kim appoints a counterpart to me who is prepared and empowered to negotiate on these issues, they will find us ready at that very moment. Dialogue can lead to action, but action is impossible without dialogue," Biegun said.
"We look forward to continuing our work for a peaceful outcome on the Korean Peninsula. I believe this is very much possible. President Trump has given us his full support to continue this effort," he added.
The U.S. diplomat also said that he did not request a visit with North Korea during his trip here this time, stressing the purpose of his visit was to "meet with our close friends and allies."
Biegun arrived here Tuesday for a three-day visit on an apparent mission to highlight the U.S. commitment to diplomacy with Pyongyang and forestall the escalation of tensions caused by Pyongyang's recent blowing up of an inter-Korean liaison office in its border city of Kaesong and warnings of now suspended military plans last month.
He plans to fly to Japan on Thursday before returning home.