Both North and South call for dialogue in 2011

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Both North and South call for dialogue in 2011

Following a year marked by deadly attacks, North Korea has called for improved ties with the South, expressing hope for inter-Korean dialogue and economic cooperation.

Three state-run North Korean media outlets, including the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, issued their joint New Year’s editorial on Saturday, laying out the communist regime’s domestic and foreign affairs agenda for 2011.

“Confrontation between the North and the South must be defused as soon as possible,” the editorial said, blaming Seoul for its anti-Pyongyang policies and alleged attempts to invade the North. The editorial did not mention the North’s sinking of the Cheonan in March (which Pyongyang denies) and its lethal shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November.

The editorial also emphasized that inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation must be pushed forward.

“The mutual interest of the Korean people must be the top priority and active efforts should be made to create an atmosphere of dialogue and cooperation,” it said. “Exchanges between people of all classes [in the two Koreas] should be guaranteed and cooperation projects must be promoted to improve inter-Korean ties and contribute to unification.”

The editorial also said Pyongyang’s position and commitment to realize a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and peace in Northeast Asia remain unchanged. The North, however, urged its army to “keep its highest vigilance” and “participate in combat training as if they are in a real war in order to meet the escalated tensions.”

The editorial, which largely repeated the North’s messages of last year, also said light industry is the country’s driving force. Pyongyang also vowed to pay more attention to agriculture to solve the country’s food shortage.

The North also urged its people to unite under the leadership of Kim Jong-il and the Workers’ Party. The party’s delegates’ conference in September - at which Kim’s youngest son and heir, Jong-un, made his public debut - was also referred to as the foundation on which to complete the party’s achievements and the country’s Juche (self-reliance) revolution, another reference to the power succession.

The Ministry of Unification said the North’s message indicates its willingness to talk with the South, but showed skepticism about Pyongyang’s sincerity.

“The North blamed the South for the worsened relationship and urged Seoul to change its policy toward the North,” the ministry said in an analysis published Saturday. “The North also focused on instigating internal splits among South Koreans.”

While Seoul made public its skepticism of Pyongyang’s message, North Korea experts interpreted the joint editorial as a signal to seek high-level talks.

“It appears that the North still has feelings left for the possibility of having an inter-Korean summit with President Lee,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute.

The North’s message came as the South was also stressing the importance of inter-Korean dialogue.

During a telephone conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on New Year’s Day, President Lee Myung-bak sought the United Nations’ support and said, “This year will be a crucial year in inter-Korean relations.”

Ban promised his assistance, saying that the United Nations has a plan to send a special envoy to the North.

During the Unification Ministry’s report to the president on Dec. 29, Lee also stressed the importance of inter-Korean dialogue. On the same day, Lee urged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to keep in mind the role of inter-Korean negotiations to end the North’s nuclear arms programs, in addition to the six-party talks.

Lee gives his New Year’s address at 10 a.m. today to present his 2011 agenda. Although Lee has increasingly stressed the importance of inter-Korean dialogue, Seoul insists Pyongyang admit and apologize for the Cheonan’s sinking and Yeonpyeong Island shelling before resuming any talks.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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