Seoul returns offer for talks - but tough talksAfter 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 [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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