Don’t give up on dialogue

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Don’t give up on dialogue

Despite the need for dialogue highlighted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in his visits to Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo, North Korea has splashed cold water on the concerted peace efforts. A spokesman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland criticized the South Korean government’s dialogue proposal by defining it as a “shell without substance.” Pyongyang said Seoul is not yet prepared for sincere dialogue. Some in our government believe that Pyongyang’s response does not directly translate into a flat denial.

Though not desirable, the tug of war between Seoul and Pyongyang does not necessarily mean that an opportunity for dialogue has vanished. First of all, North Korea has cited the ongoing joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States as one of the major reasons for its rejection of our peace offer.

To put it differently, the North set preconditions for dialogue by demanding that the South basically scrap its confrontational attitude. Experts on North Korean affairs explain that Pyongyang habitually resorts to such rhetoric when it wants to leave some room to achieve its goal.

The Blue House’s expression of regret, therefore, should be understood only as a reflection of dissatisfaction with the North’s typical responses with strings attached. Our government also urged the North to take responsible measures to resolve the deepening hardship of South Korean workers in the Kaesong Industrial Complex due to its ban on importing food for them.

The war of nerves can perhaps be summarized like this: While Pyongyang says it’s too early to start talking with Seoul in the middle of a joint military drill, Seoul asks Pyongyang to at least allow us to deliver food to those workers in the industrial park. By underscoring that food delivery is a humanitarian issue, our government hinted that allowing the delivery does not mean a shameful defeat in the war of nerves.

Besides, overly prolonging the tense state will undoubtedly put a heavy burden on both sides in financial and psychological terms - particularly when there’s no mutual effort to address it. President Park Geun-hye explained the situation to Kerry during his visit to Seoul. As long as both sides have a will to solve it through dialogue, they can begin to talk sometime soon.

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