South Korea's unification ministry said on Friday that the country's policy on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) belonged to a matter of sovereignty.
Lee Sang-min, the ministry's spokesman, told a press briefing that the policy on the DPRK belonged to the sovereignty of South Korea, saying the United States repeatedly expressed respect for the sovereignty through various channels.
The comment came after U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris reportedly told a group of foreign reporters that it would be "better" for South Korea to pursue the inter-Korean cooperation through the "working group" between Seoul and Washington in a bid to avoid "misunderstanding."
Harris' remark was seen by local media as the U.S. demand for South Korea making a prior consultation with the U.S. government before launching any inter-Korean cooperation.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in his New Year press conference earlier this week that an enhanced inter-Korean cooperation can help win international support for the "exemption of a part of sanctions" against the DPRK or the approval of "exceptional measures."
Moon said that if it is necessary to win an exceptional approval from the UN Security Council over sanctions against the DPRK, he had willingness to make efforts for it during the process of inter-Korean cooperation.
The spokesman said Seoul was anticipating an expanded private exchange between the two Koreas by allowing South Korean people to visit the DPRK in various forms.
He noted that individual tour by South Koreans to the DPRK was not in violation of UN sanctions against Pyongyang as seen in many other foreign tourists traveling to the DPRK.
Tour by South Koreans to the DPRK's scenic resort of Mount Kumgang, launched in 1998, had been run for about 10 years before shutdown in 2008 when a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a DPRK solider after allegedly venturing into off-limit areas.
Lee said South Korea was considering various ways to increase private exchange with the DPRK from the perspective of inter-Korean cooperation, noting that what is the most important would be whether the DPRK authorities permit South Koreans' individual tour to the country.
The spokesman added that South Korea will closely cooperate with the international community, if necessary, while pushing for inter-Korean cooperation projects that the two Koreas can do independently.