South responds to invite for working-level talks

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South responds to invite for working-level talks

South Korea made an official request to Pyongyang for working-level talks on Feb. 11 at 10 a.m. in Panmunjom through a military communication line. Yesterday’s request, which was sent from Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan-jin, is for preparatory talks ahead of military talks.

They may be attended by Kim but that has not yet been confirmed.

“We will make an additional request regarding that matter once North Korea sends a reply,” said Kim Min-seok, Defense Ministry spokesman.

The preparatory talks are expected to discuss the scale and agenda of the military talks.

If they are scheduled, the high-level military talks will be the first in four months after the last round of dialogue last Sept. 30. Yesterday’s request reciprocated one sent from the North on Jan. 20 to discuss the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last year. The fact that the North cited the Cheonan and Yeonpyong attacks in that request was not disclosed at the time.

The Ministry of Unification announced yesterday that it, too, requested working-level talks with North Korea on Feb. 11 to prepare for the high-level military talks.

“The South Korean government believes that for peace on the Korean Peninsula, as well as the development of relations between the two Koreas, North Korea’s willingness to denuclearize must be confirmed,” said Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung in a briefing yesterday.

“We urge North Korea to accept this offer for the two Koreas to meet and for North Korea to clarify its stance on the nuclear issue.”

The Unification Ministry had already urged North Korea to take responsibility for last year’s attacks and guarantee there would be no additional attacks through a statement made on Jan.10. The ministry had also requested the North show sincerity toward denuclearization.

North Korea replied with a request for high-level military talks on Jan. 20 and to discuss the provocations, but it has not yet given an answer on denuclearization, which has been urged continuously by South Korea, U.S. and other allied countries. North Korea showed a visiting U.S. scientist a previously undisclosed uranium enrichment facility last year.

Experts say that this is just the beginning of talks as communication between the two countries was frozen after North Korea’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island last year.

“It’s hard to say that this will lead to a summit talk between the two Koreas,” said Lee Jung-chul, a North Korea expert at Soongsil University in Seoul. “These talks will just be to start the conversation [between North and South Korea].”

By Christine Kim []
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