Chuseok reunion talks proposed to Pyongyang

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Chuseok reunion talks proposed to Pyongyang

Seoul proposed talks to Pyongyang to discuss holding reunions of war-separated families ahead of the Chuseok holiday, the Ministry of Unification announced yesterday.

In a fax message sent to Pyongyang, South Korea proposed the high-level government talks be held on Aug. 19 at the Tongil Pavilion in North Korean territory in the border village of Panmunjom, a Unification Ministry official told reporters at a briefing.

“We also called upon the North to propose any other dates that may be convenient for them,” the official said.

The South’s chief negotiator for the talks will be Kim Kyou-hyun, deputy director of the powerful National Security Office at the Blue House, according to the ministry.

When asked if the two Koreas would discuss other pending issues, such as easing or lifting the so-called “May 24 measures,” sanctions against North Korea imposed after the sinking of South Korea’s naval ship Cheonan in 2010, or reopening the shuttered Mount Kumgang Resort, the Seoul official said the agenda could be expanded.

“We don’t think we would exclude a certain issue at the talks,” the official said. “If North Korea puts those issues on the negotiating table, we can surely discuss them.”

Still, the official said discussion of sensitive matters would not mean Seoul would resume all government-level interactions with the North.

Most government-level interactions between the two Koreas have been halted since the May 24 sanctions, which the Lee Myung-bak administration imposed on North Korea in the wake of the sinking of the Cheonan in March 2010. A group of international investigators concluded it was torpedoed by North Korea, which Pyongyang denies.

It is uncertain whether Pyongyang will accept the proposal for talks, as the tentative schedule would have them begin at the start of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint military exercises of South Korea and the United States.

North Korea has publicly denounced the scheduled drills and threatened to carry out an additional nuclear weapon test to strike the U.S. mainland.

If Pyongyang agrees, the reunions of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War are expected to take place at the end of September or early October, given the time needed to prepare for previous reunions.

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




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