[EDITORIALS]North talks need a push

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[EDITORIALS]North talks need a push

Starting Friday, working-level meetings will be held at Mount Geumgang to prepare for inter-Korean ministerial talks. North Korea will later meet with the South, the United States and Japan, by turns. The planned talks were created after the North improved foreign affairs by breaking from its long-standing reclusive habits. Seoul should draw up firm and clear stances toward the North in order to maintain the atmosphere of talks between the two Koreas and develop a constructive dialogue.

Seoul, before resuming a dialogue with the North, must remember that its North Korea policy is preconditioned to the public consensus. The Kim Dae-jung government's engagement policy toward the North was appropriate and timely. The policy, however, has been a subject of endless debates, and ended up being paralyzed. Seoul must examine the background of such a failure. The government ignored most of the public opinion and sentiment, and pushed its engagement policy unilaterally. Thus, Seoul must remember that the inter-Korean dialogue should begin after the North promises to punish those responsible for last month's sea battle and to prevent a recurrence of a similar incident.

If Seoul's intentions are clear, the government's engagement policy toward the North will gain momentum and public support. Unless that happens, the North will believe the South will always follow the North, whatever the North will do, and it will never respect the South as a counterpart. Only when the two Koreas build a foundation of mutual respect will the talks between the two Koreas really get going. Yet what Seoul thinks about this weekend's working-level meeting with the North is extremely disappointing. The two Koreas have reportedly agreed through secret contacts on the agenda of the ministerial meeting and to open the talks before Aug. 15; the working-level talks will discuss only technical issues, including the details of scheduled meetings.

We urge that the issues associated with last month's sea skirmish be dealt with at the working-level contacts. If that happens, the public will agree with the South's support of Pyeongyang's economic reform. No one would possibly oppose the government plan of giving rice aid to the North, if Seoul had probed the North's wrongdoing to the bottom and had drawn up preventive measures.

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