North wants dialogue with the South

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North wants dialogue with the South

In another conciliatory gesture, North Korea renewed its proposal for nongovernmental dialogue with South Korea on ways to mark their landmark 2000 summit agreement, an official said yesterday.

The North Korean side of the Committee for the Implementation of the June 15 Declaration proposed to its South Korean counterpart that the sides “make contact at an appropriate time,” the Unification Ministry official said on Wednesday in a faxed message, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Hyun In-taek, the South Korean unification minister, said while attending a forum in Seoul that he would look into details of the proposal to decide whether his government would allow such a meeting.

The Koreas remain technically at war, with the 1950-53 Korean War ending in a cease-fire. South Korean civilians are required to receive government approval for contact with North Koreans.

North Korea has made similar proposals since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in early 2008 with a pledge to review past inter-Korean agreements.

But the latest proposal comes amid signs that Pyongyang is seeking to curb tension with the South after it spiked to the highest level in years over the March sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. South Korea blames North Korea for the sinking that killed 46 sailors. Pyongyang denies any involvement.

Amid the tension, the two Koreas are set to begin reunions of families separated by war later this month for the first time in a year. The sides restored their hot line earlier this week after a proposal from the North.

Red Cross officials of the two countries will hold another round of talks next week in the North to discuss final preparations for the reunions, the Unification Ministry said, adding that it sent the North a list of three delegates Thursday to attend the meeting.

On Wednesday, the North Korean committee faxed the message in its capacity as a subcommittee on media exchanges.

“Amid the fostering of a positive atmosphere for the improvement of inter-Korean relations, let us discuss matters on actively promoting press activities that meet the mission of journalists,” it was quoted as saying.

Following the 2000 meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, inter-Korean exchanges accelerated, leading to the creation of a joint industrial complex and a cross-border tourism project involving an eastern mountain resort in the communist state.

The sides held their second summit in 2007, but a deal to expand economic cooperation hit a snag after Lee took office with a pledge to tie it to the denuclearization of North Korea. Multinational talks on denuclearization have remain stalled since late 2008.

“Rather than lashing out at us, North Korea should show a way for the future of the Korean Peninsula,” Hyun said in a speech to unification activists. “The first step is to show a willingness to account for the attack on the Cheonan. Another is to make a political determination toward denuclearization.

“That will be the starting point for the normalization of inter-Korean relations,” he said.

North Korea hopes that eased tensions will help restart cross-border tourism that has been suspended since a South Korean tourist was shot to death at Mount Kumgang in July 2008.

The North has reaped millions of U.S. dollars for the tours - much-needed currency for the impoverished nation - before they were suspended.

South Korea, which refuses to link family reunions to the tours to the eastern mountain resort, has yet to respond to a North Korean proposal to hold working-level dialogue to discuss ways to resume the tours.

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