Seoul offers ‘last’ Kaesong meeting

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Seoul offers ‘last’ Kaesong meeting

South Korea has proposed more talks on reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex after negotiators from the North stormed out of the sixth round, refusing additional dialogue.

South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae convened a press meeting yesterday and offered North Korea a “last” meeting on the issue of resuming operations at the jointly-run factory park that has been shut since April.

“At the past six talks, our government maintained the consistent position that operations at the Kaesong complex should never be halted for political or military reasons, and that business at the complex should be secured based on international standards,” said Ryoo in his statement. “But North Korea has resisted following these basic rules and implied they could suspend operations at the complex again based on political or military situations.

“We ask North Korea to give a clear response on the prevention [of operational disruptions],” Ryoo said. “If it doesn’t, our government can’t avoid making a grave decision to prevent larger losses by our firms.”

Ryoo refused to explain what the “grave decision” would be, although political analysts assume it refers to the permanent shutdown of the complex.

Ryoo said that South Korea will formally request today a last round of talks through liaison officials based in the truce village of Panmunjom. Like the six previous meetings, it will be low-level, not ministerial-level, he added.

North Korea unilaterally declared that negotiations on the complex were “broken,” after a deal could not be reached after the sixth round of talks on Thursday.

According to the South’s Unification Ministry and the draft agreements that North Korea unveiled to South Korean reporters on Thursday, the North accepted most of Seoul’s demands, such as developing the complex in an advanced way, attracting foreign investors and guaranteeing the safety of South Korean workers.

However, North Korea resisted taking all responsibility for the shutdown of the complex, which started with its decision to impose an entry ban on South Korean workers and cargo in April amid frosty bilateral relations.

The North also refused to promise never to hold the eight-year-old complex hostage for political gain, saying that both Koreas must take responsibility for the complex together.

North Korea proclaimed that the complex should not be affected by any political or military situations, apparently referring to the upcoming Korea-U.S. joint military exercises scheduled in August that the regime is against.

After yesterday’s briefing, a Unification Ministry official explained to reporters that the proposal came out of concern that the complex could permanently shut down if the two Koreas halt talks.

“We thought we couldn’t wait for [action from the North] without doing anything,” the official said. “We decided it would be better to take the initiative.”

However, the official said Seoul has not changed its position that the North should apologize for the three-month-long shutdown and promise not to commit a similar act again.

“Both sides have reached agreement on most of the Kaesong issues, except how to prevent [a further shutdown],” the official said. “So we put an emphasis on our position once again, through the statement of the minister.”

Along with the proposal for talks, Ryoo also announced approval for humanitarian assistance from private organizations for North Korea.

“As I repeatedly confirmed, our government will move forward with humanitarian aid for North Korean infants and children and other underprivileged people, separately from the matter of political issues,” Ryoo said.

Today, Ryoo said he will allow five organizations to provide aid worth 1.4 billion won ($1.2 million) in total. The groups are to offer medical and nutritional support for North Korean children and handicapped people.

Separately from those organizations, the government will launch a $6.04 million project to provide vaccines for North Korean children and pregnant women, as well as food aid for starving children. It will be managed by Unicef.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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