Dialogue must continue

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Dialogue must continue

In order to sustain dialogue and reap the rewards at the end, both sides must be sincere and honest with one another. This principle applies to diplomacy. If one side unilaterally decides to disclose statements exchanged in confidence, the two cannot go on talking. There were serious consequences for the inter-Korean relationship after the South disclosed confidential conversations among leaders of the two countries in a 2007 summit. Pyongyang also damaged the relationship by disclosing details of recent military talks.

In a lengthy article last Thursday, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency disclosed full details of a high-level military meeting that took place at the truce village of Panmunjom the previous day. It claimed it was doing so because the South had leaked false information about the meeting. According to the report, North Korean officials repeatedly asked for military talks “cordially and sincerely” to prevent incidents like the skirmishes near the maritime border on Oct. 7.

Yet even after Seoul reluctantly agreed to meet, there was a lack of sincerity. Gen. Kim Yong-chol, director of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, led the talks for the North and Lt. Gen. Ryu Je-seung, head of National Defense Policy Office, represented the South. The report claimed South Korean officials merely repeated what had been said previously. They were the first military talks in nearly four years.

The Defense Ministry immediately issued a statement denying the report. Seoul revealed only what had been agreed upon, but Pyongyang violated that confidentiality agreement by disclosing all of the details.

Pyongyang’s behavior is inexcusable, but Seoul also shares some of the blame. It should not have proposed that talks be closed in the first place after repeatedly arguing for transparency in the inter-Korean relationship and dialogue. Together with the recent exchange of fire across the border and a North Korean vessel that violated the maritime border, the government’s sloppy handling and response to the military talks put a damper on the recent conciliatory mood for dialogue after a group of high-level North Korean officials made a rare visit to South Korea earlier this month and proposed senior-level talks.

But the mood for dialogue must be sustained. Recent developments should not deter the two Koreas from holding a senior-level meeting later this month to try - with sincerity - to discuss a variety of differences again.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 18, Page 34

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