Minister pushes inter-Korean meeting

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Minister pushes inter-Korean meeting

South Korea is willing to discuss lifting its economic sanctions on North Korea if the regime agrees to dialogue, Seoul’s top unification policy maker told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday on the sidelines of an international forum.

At the Korea Global Forum, hosted by the unification ministry, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae also urged the North to consider scheduling talks to discuss a number of pending inter-Korean issues. “The South Korean government is willing to place all agendas on the table and discuss them,” he said in his speech, urging North Korea to respond to Seoul’s proposal for high-level contact.

Asked how far Seoul would go in inter-Korean talks, Ryoo told the JoongAng Ilbo that economic sanctions and investment bans on the North could be discussed. “If they want to resolve the May 24 measures, they must come out to the negotiation table,” he said.

The May 24 measures, imposed by the previous Lee Myung-bak administration in March 2010 in the aftermath of the sinking of the Cheonan warship, froze most government-level interactions and aid for the North. Visiting North Korea is strictly forbidden and only a few civic groups have been allowed to visit with humanitarian aid.

It also bars South Koreans from making new investments in North Korea.

Ryoo told the JoongAng Ilbo that the South is willing to discuss lifting the May 24 measures, stressing that it was a progression from the government’s earlier position. “This is a step forward,” he said. “But you know we cannot say anything stronger [like promising to lift sanctions if they join talks].”

The minister added that discussions on lifting sanctions had previously taken place last year inside the South after South Korean companies like Posco, Korail and Hyundai participated in the Rajin-Khasan project, aimed at refurbishing the port of Rajin in North Korea and a railroad connecting it to the Russian town of Khasan.

The resumption of the tour program at Mount Kumgang could also be discussed at the inter-Korean talks, Ryoo said, although the specifics are slightly different. The tourist program to the North’s scenic mountain has been suspended since 2008, when a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier.

In his speech at the forum, Ryoo said the North must not make preconditions for talks over certain measures. “There are reasons and historic background for these measures,” he said. “To resolve them, the two Koreas must talk.”

He further stated that the South Korean government would make efforts to improve the dire rights situation in the North and promised to expand humanitarian aid.

The minister also emphasized the importance of international cooperation in preparing for the unification of the two Koreas, inviting other countries to join inter-Korean projects.

The Korea Global Forum is an annual event that was launched by the Unification Ministry in 2010.

Government officials, scholars and experts from 10 countries attended yesterday’s gathering to address the theme, “Trust, Peace, Prosperity: Path to Korean Unification.”

Asia Group Chairman and CEO Kurt Campbell, the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, is scheduled to give a special lecture today.


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