Seoul proposes minister-level talks

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Seoul proposes minister-level talks

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Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, center, holds a press conference Monday in the briefing room of the Central Government Complex in Seoul to announce that the South Korean government offered to have inter-Korean talks with North Korea next month. [NEWSIS]

The government proposed minister-level talks next month with no strings attached to North Korea in an attempt to thaw frozen inter-Korean relations.

Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said during a press briefing Monday that the government sent a fax message to Kim Yang-gon, director of the North’s United Front Department, which is in charge of South Korea policy, offering dialogue on issues of mutual concerns, including reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

“The preparation committee for reunification officially proposes to North Korea that we hold talks to discuss issues of mutual concerns some time in January,” said the minister.

“[I] especially hope that broken hearts of the separated families could be healed through reunions before the Lunar New Year holidays.”

Ryoo, who doubles as the deputy head of the presidential committee for reunification, said he will head Seoul’s delegation if the North agrees to the meeting, adding that the venue could be either Seoul or Pyongyang.

Ryoo stressed that the coming year marks the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberalization from Japan’s colonial rule after World War II in making his case for the need for high-level talks between the two countries.

By noting the two could address issues of mutual concern, it is expected that the South could consider lifting its so-called May 24 sanctions on Pyongyang, which were imposed for the sinking of the Cheonan warship in March 2010.

The proposal for talks comes after a prolonged stalemate in inter-Korean relations despite hopes for improvement after Pyongyang sent a high-powered delegation to Incheon in early October. Those top officials agreed to hold vice-ministerial talks in late October or early November.

But they weren’t held because of the North’s fury over an anti-Pyongyang leaflet and balloon campaign waged by civic activists in the South.

It remains to be seen whether the North will agree to come to the table because it doesn’t approve of the presidential committee preparing for reunification, which it calls the South’s efforts to absorb the Pyongyang regime.

Pyongyang still could accept the offer, however, given that its point man on South Korea policy, Kim Yang-gon, expressed his desire to resume Mount Kumgang tours and hold reunions of the separated relatives during a meeting with officials from the Kim Dae-jung Peace Center last week.

The dialogue offer by Seoul is seen as the Park Geun-hye administration’s efforts to find momentum to improve inter-Korean relations. As the Park government enters its third year, 2015 could be the last time the president can achieve tangible goals from her North Korea policy, including a possible summit with the young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

If Park can’t break the gridlock next year, it’s thought that 2016 will be harder as political parties will be in full campaign mode for the general election in April.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]




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