Reciprocity from North vitalIn his New Year’s address, President Lee Myung-bak expressed his intention to push for a turning point in inter-Korean relations, starting with the launch of a permanent South Korean liaison office in Pyongyang, and one for the North in Seoul. North Korea had earlier in a New Year’s newspaper editorial called for improved bilateral ties.
The two Koreas finally appear to be ready to mend fences after two years of chilled relations. The problem is how. We hope both Koreas will endeavor to find common ground through flexibility and ingenuity.
North Korea can take the first step by returning to the six-party platform devoted to disarming the country of its nuclear weapons. Without progress toward denuclearization, dialogue and cooperation between the two Koreas cannot make strides. If it is really committed to improving ties with the South, the North must return to the six-party talks.
President Lee in his New Year’s address revisited the idea of creating senior-level liaison offices in Seoul and Pyongyang to establish a lasting diplomatic channel between the two states. He had floated the idea during an interview with the American press in 2008. Once the liaison offices open, the two Koreas will be able to discuss economic ventures, humanitarian aid, meetings of separated families and the return of prisoners of war and abducted South Korean nationals. But even this diplomatic breakthrough will not be realized unless North Korea takes action to dismantle its nuclear arms program.
The same goes for another inter-Korean summit. The Choson Sinbo, a newspaper published by a pro-Pyongyang federation of Korean residents in Japan, wrote that a summit may materialize this year, hyping the North’s promise to work toward better relations with the South in its New Year’s message as an “indication of a dramatic event to take place this year.”
But again, summit talks would be meaningless if Pyongyang does not show it is willing to give up its nuclear ambitions.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of North Korea’s invasion of the South, beginning the war that ended in 1953. President Lee said he will seek talks with the North to bring home the bodies of South Korean soldiers buried in the North. It is a country’s duty to do all it can to honor those who have sacrificed their lives for its integrity. The joint body search can be the two Koreas’ first venture this year, building up goodwill along the way.
The two Koreas must break the ice one way or another, now that the North has begun high-level dialogue with the United States. We should capitalize on this long-awaited momentum to revive productive talks.