Park hints at end of sanctions

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Park hints at end of sanctions

President Park Geun-hye said yesterday the so-called May 24 sanctions on North Korea should be resolved through a conversation between authorities of both countries, raising hopes that Seoul will lift the four-year punitive measures against Pyongyang.

“We should take the high-ranking talks as a chance to improve inter-Korean relations,” President Park said at a second meeting yesterday of the Preparatory Committee for Unification that she chairs. The first meeting took place on Aug. 7, six months after she declared unification would be a “jackpot” for South Korea.

“The currently hot-button issue of the May 24 sanctions should be resolved after South and North Korean authorities meet and have sincere dialogue with responsible attitudes,” she said.

On Oct. 5, three powerful officials from Pyongyang made a surprise trip to South Korea to attend the closing ceremony of the Incheon Asian Games and agreed to hold talks with high-ranking officials of the two countries soon.

Yesterday was the first time Park directly addressed the issue of economic sanctions, which were imposed by the preceding administration following the sinking of the Cheonan warship in 2010.

Her comment came as the North wages a flip-flop strategy in dealing with the South - abruptly sending the three officials to the South Korean port city of Incheon and then firing shots last Friday at balloons carrying propaganda leaflets across the border.

On Aug. 11, Park proposed high-level inter-Korean talks, a follow-up to initial talks held in February.

But at the same time, Park cautioned against rushing into anything. “It is very dangerous to change the circumstances of inter-Korean ties based on hurried judgments,” she said.

“Given that President Park made the remarks concerning the May 24 sanctions, South Korea should be able to show much improved flexibility when it comes to North Korean policies,” said a Blue House official later.

Kim Geun-shik, a political science professor at Kyungnam University, said the president discussing the measures - even in the wake of an exchange of fire across the border - indicates Seoul is serious about a willingness to negotiate with Pyongyang, and offers a good reason for the North to come to the negotiating table.

The May 24 sanctions were imposed by the Lee Myung-bak administration to punish the North in the wake of its torpedoing and sinking of South Korea’s Cheonan warship in 2010. Pyongyang denies sinking the Cheonan.

The sanctions prohibited the entry of South Korean citizens to the North; halted all inter-Korean trade; prohibited expansion of any ongoing inter-Korean businesses or any new investment; and postponed any aid to North Korea.

As a result of the sanctions, all inter-Korean trade was suspended except for goods from the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Humanitarian aid was also cut, causing the Communist regime difficulties. The measures led to South Korean companies in business with the North either going bust or losing money.

Both the ruling and opposition parties welcomed the president’s move.

Rep. Rhee In-je of the Saenuri Party said, “It is very meaningful that the president mentioned the May 24 measures,” adding he hopes for a broad conversation at the upcoming high-level inter-Korean talks.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy also came up with an upbeat response. Park’s mention of the sanctions and resolving the issue through negotiations is a “step of progress,” according to a written briefing from Yoo Ki-hong, the party’s senior spokesman.

At the same time, Yoo expressed regret over the fact that the president failed to go so far as to make “further detailed resolutions” concerning the sanctions.

The people attending the second committee meeting included two joint deputy chairmen - Chung Chong-wook, former ambassador to China who represents the civilian side, and Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae - as well as some 70 government officials, civic group members, professionals from various media outlets and experts.


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