Seoul returns offer for talks - but tough talks

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Seoul returns offer for talks - but tough talks

After several requests for talks from North Korea, the Ministry of Unification reciprocated on Monday for a parley between North and South on the subjects Pyongyang doesn’t want to discuss: the sinking of the Cheonan in March and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November.

“For real talks between South and North Korea to happen, responsible measures must be taken for the sinking of the Cheonan and the attack on Yeonpyeong Island, as well as a promise to prevent additional provocations from reoccurring,” said a statement from the Unification Ministry spokesperson. “There is also a need to confirm the North’s sincerity on denuclearization and we request talks between the two countries for this.”

The South’s statement criticized the North’s offers of talks as an “offensive with a peaceful front.”

“We also see this is as one of the North’s conventional tactics to cause a divide in our society,” the statement said. “North Korea has shown this sort of behavior numerous times in the past to change the state of affairs. The North Korean government has unilaterally requested talks to get economic aid and assistance without taking any responsibility for the great sacrifices made by South Korean citizens after the shooting [of a South Korean tourist] in Mount Kumgang [in 2008], the Cheonan sinking and the shelling of Yeonpeyong Island.”

North Korea sent three official requests for talks on Monday with specific dates and venues.

The North called for working-level talks in Kaesong on Jan. 27 to discuss a higher-level dialogue. Separately, North Korea suggested holding talks between each country’s Red Crosses on Feb. 1 in Munsan, Paju, and made an offer to open up the Red Cross liaison channel in Panmunjom starting today.

The statements were sent via the communication center in Kaesong from the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, the North Korean Red Cross and the chief of the North’s side of the Consultative Office for North-South Economic Cooperation.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency also reported the offers Monday evening.

Monday’s requests were the latest in a series of requests since Jan. 1.

The North also informed Seoul that it would reopen the Consultative Office for North-South Economic Cooperation in Kaesong, which was shut down along with the communication line at Panmunjom after President Lee Myung-bak’s May address calling for punitive measures against the North.

The Unification Ministry said yesterday that it would not be sending any of the South’s workers to the office, “as economic cooperation is currently on hold because of the May statement,” a ministry official said, adding, “There is really nothing for our workers to do there.”

Analysts are split on whether North Korea will accept South Korea’s offer, but Seoul is adamant that the North show some signs of change before any conversation starts.

When asked to define “sincere actions,” Chun Hae-sung, spokesman for the Unification Ministry, said, “It would be something that even ordinary South Koreans can comprehend.”

By Christine Kim []

Related Korean Article [중앙일보]

북 “27일 실무접촉 하자” … 정부 “천안함·북핵 회담” 역제의

북한이 10일 당국간 회담을 위한 국장급 실무접촉과 적십자회담 개최 등의 내용을 담은 3통의 통지문을 우리 측에 보낸 것으로 확인됐다. 지난 1일 신년 사설 이후 네 번째 이어진 대화공세다. 통일부는 북측 아·태평화위원회가 오는 27일 개성에서 남북 당국간 회담의 급과 일시, 장소 문제를 협의하기 위한 국장급 실무접촉을 개최할 것을 제의해왔다고 밝혔다. 북측은 또 조선적십자회중앙위원회 위원장 명의로 2월 1일 문산에서 남북적십자회담을 개최할 것을 제의했으며, 12일부터 판문점 적십자채널을 다시 개통한다고 알려왔다. 또 남북경제협력협의사무소 북측 소장 명의로 12일부터 개성 남북경제협력협의사무소에서 사업을 다시 시작할 것이라고 알려왔다.

이에 대해 통일부는 대변인 논평을 통해 “남북 간 진정한 대화가 이뤄지려면 천안함 폭침과 연평도 포격도발에 대한 확약, 비핵화에 대한 진정성이 확인이 필요하다”며 이들을 의제로 한 당국간 회담을 역제의했다.

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