Park demands actions, not just words by North

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Park demands actions, not just words by North

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President Park Geun-hye, right, greets U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, center, and U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim. The senator visited Seoul on Saturday as part of his Asian trip to discuss diplomatic issues in Northeast Asia. [Joint Press Corps]

President Park Geun-hye said she was skeptical about North Korea’s recent conciliatory proposals, including the offer to hold reunions for separated families, saying such peaceful gestures were always a prelude to an attack on South Korea.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Sub-committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, met with Park on Saturday at the Blue House in Seoul. The meeting was part of a trip to the region to better understand North Korean affairs and other diplomatic issues in Northeast Asia.

“Given our previous experiences, such conciliatory propaganda [by North Korea] has always been followed by provocation,” Park told Rubio, according to transcripts released by the Blue House. “Their words were always inconsistent with their actions.

“Now it is the time for them to prove [their sincerity] not by words but by actions.”

On Friday evening, North Korea abruptly released an open letter proposing reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War after the Lunar New Year holidays.

The letter, carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency and featured on the front page of the Rodong Sinmun, was a follow-up to similar proposals made on Jan. 16.

The statement made last week demanded that Seoul cancel the annual military drills with the United States that run between February and April and urged both sides to halt the “slander and insults” against each other starting Jan. 30, the first day of Korea’s Lunar New Year holidays.

South Korea dismissed the offer at the time, casting doubts on the sincerity of the proposal. It also said that the matter of the family reunions should be carried out regardless of the political situation.

On Jan. 1, 2010, North Korea released a New Year’s editorial calling for better inter-Korean relations. However, two months later, a South Korean naval ship was sunk, which international investigators concluded was caused by a torpedo fired by North Korea.

In October 2010, North Korea also proposed holding reunions for separated families, but in November 2010, the regime bombed South Korea’s frontline island of Yeonpyeong, killing two civilians and two Marines.

On Jan. 1, 2013, North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong-un also called for improving the inter-Korean relationship, but on Feb. 12, 2013, the regime carried out its third-ever nuclear weapons test.

“If North Korea indeed wants peace on the Korean Peninsula, they should come forward to resolve the matter of its nuclear weapons program, the biggest hurdle for peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Park told Rubio on Saturday. “North Korea is becoming increasingly unpredictable, and the two allies [South Korea and the United States] should closely cooperate to maintain tightened security.”

The South Korean government is planning to send a reply to North Korea’s letter soon, a source told the JoongAng Ilbo, to propose holding family reunions in mid-February, before Pyongyang changes its mind.

The Korea-U.S. joint military exercises are scheduled for early March, and the South Korean government will soon be sending official notifications to China and North Korea about the drills, the source said.

However, a military official told the JoongAng Ilbo that U.S. aircraft and strategic bombers would not be participating in the coming drills.

“Last year, we mobilized bombers for the drills due to the highest military tensions raised by North Korea,” the military official said. “But this year’s situation is not so tense as to bring the bombers.”

Despite South Korea’s explanation that the annual exercises are just for self-defense, Pyongyang denounced them and called them a hostile act against the regime.

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

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