North sends formal proposal to quickly hold talks ‘face to face’

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North sends formal proposal to quickly hold talks ‘face to face’

North Korea sent South Korea a formal proposal yesterday to quickly hold talks on all humanitarian and other mutual issues, including the reunions of families separated by war, as the sides move to hold their first defense talks in months.

The proposal, reported by the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and confirmed by the South’s Unification Ministry, is the latest in the communist state’s charm offensive after Pyongyang sharply raised tensions by shelling a South Korean border island on Nov. 23.

“Now is the time for the authorities of the North and the South to sit face-to-face and have exhaustive and constructive talks,” the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee said in its proposal, according to the KCNA.

Meanwhile, South Korea yesterday rejected a North Korean proposal to hold working-level, or preparatory, military talks at an earlier date, saying Seoul wants to hold the talks on Feb. 11 as it originally suggested, officials here said.

The rejection came two days after the North sent a message to the South’s defense ministry, suggesting today as the date for the preliminary talks, which would be the first cross-border dialogue to be held since the North’s deadly bombardment of a border island in November.

“In response to North Korea’s proposal for Feb. 1 talks, we sent a notice today again proposing holding the working-level military talks on Feb. 11,” said a senior official at the South’s defense ministry.

It was not immediately clear why North Korea wanted an earlier date, but officials here said in private that Pyongyang may be trying to resume dialogue ahead of the birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, which falls on Feb. 16.

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