[EDITORIALS]Guarded optimism

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[EDITORIALS]Guarded optimism

Seoul and Pyeongyang recently showed signs of resuming the halted inter-Korean talks. It is difficult to determine if the South and the North Korean governments secretly contacted each other or if the two governments became aware of the need to break through the deadlock at the same time. Regardless of which case took place, the development of the talks will play a positive role for the entire peninsula since U.S. President George W. Bush will visit Seoul in February to fine-tune Washington's North Korea policy with President Kim Dae-jung.

The South Korean government announced measures to sustain the plunging Mount Geumgang tour business on Wednesday despite the protest of the opposition party and the conservatives. North Korea had also made its intention clear that it would open the overland route connecting Mount Geumgang, Wonsan and Pyeongyang for South Korean visitors at the North's Arirang Festival in spring.

Moreover, the North adopted an appeal to Koreans at home and abroad at the joint meeting of the North Korean government, political parties and organizations Tuesday, hinting that the North's intention is to resume talks with Seoul. Pyeongyang also invited former U.S. ambassadors to South Korea to visit the North during Mr. Bush's visit to the South, indicating the North might talk to the United States. Both Seoul and Pyeongyang seemed to give thoughtful consideration to each other in order to open room to develop inter-Korean relations easily.

It is important that the North emphasized the importance of governmental and civilian talks between the South and North, and that the North expressed its will to normalize inter-Korean relations with the next administration in Seoul through the appeal. The North still urged that the South abolish the National Security Law and stop addressing the North as the "main enemy."

Yet the North called its announcement an "appeal" instead of a "precondition," which is different from the past. By using such a euphemism, the North clarified its intention to resume talks with the South.

Yang Hyong-sop, vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, said this at the joint meeting: "In order for inter-Korean relations to warm it is imperative to seek authority-to-authority dialogue and all forms of nongovernmental talks and contacts, and to work harder to boost them." His remark hints that the North may propose resuming talks first.

In the appeal, Pyeongyang stressed that the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration should be implemented regardless of who leads the South and what administration is in charge. That could be seen as an expression of the will to persist in implementing the North's proposal for a loose form of federation as a unification formula, featured in the June 15 joint declaration. However, it will be more appropriate to see that remark as Pyeongyang's will to continue the talks, regardless of who is governing the South in the next administration. That shows the North's deep understanding on the political affairs in the South and the establishment of the direction toward which inter-Korean relations should develop.

From that point of view, the North's move is particularly welcoming, but Pyeongyang's makeshift way of thinking remains unchanged. At the joint meeting, Mr. Yong argued that the South should stop calling North Korea the main enemy because those words run against the national sentiment and the spirit of reunification. But the North should remember in which direction its soldiers along the truce line are aiming their guns. The North should cease its vain words and resume talks with Seoul.
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