No conditions for North summit, says president
In a New Year’s press conference aired live in the morning, the South Korean leader talked about inter-Korean relations, which have been frozen since she took office in 2013. While her message was not as bold as her prediction that unification will be a “bonanza” at last year’s New Year’s conference, Park said she was willing to push for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un without preconditions.
After addressing the nation, Park answered questions from the press. Asked about preconditions for a summit with Kim, Park said she is willing to meet anyone to resolve the people’s pains from the national division and to open a path to peaceful unification.
“If an inter-Korean summit can help, I can do it,” Park said. “And I have no preconditions for the summit. But I believe genuine attitude and open-mindedness of the North is a must to resolve inter-Korean issues through dialogue.”
North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un said in a New Year’s address that there was “no reason not to hold a summit meeting depending on the mood and environment.”
Although Park said she had no preconditions, she raised the most complicated issue - Pyongyang’s nuclear arms programs.
“For example, denuclearization [of the North] is not a precondition, but we cannot talk about peaceful unification without resolving this,” Park continued. “I believe this issue should be resolved through talks between the two Koreas and through multilateral consultations.”
The remarks appeared to be a slight change from the Park government’s earlier position that denuclearization is a precondition for talks.
Asked if the administration was willing to lift the so-called May 24 sanctions on the North, Park once again said an inter-Korean dialogue must take place to find a way to deal with them, hinting at a willingness to remove the sanctions imposed in retaliation for the North’s sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in 2010.
Asked if her government has a plan to stop South Korean activists from sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets over the border via balloons, as the North has demanded, Park hinted at a possible shift in the administration’s stance that it cannot restrain freedom of expression.
“The government is making some adjustments,” said Park. “Freedom of expression is the people’s basic right. Although civic groups need to act autonomously, the safety of the residents [along the inter-Korean border] must not be threatened. We are trying to coordinate the two aspects and sometimes ask the activists to refrain from their activities. I believe we can continue to manage the situation wisely.
“We have made numerous requests to the North to have talks, but strangely the North has acted very passively and did not accept our offer,” Park said. “Whether it is about the summit or the May 24 measures, the two Koreas’ government officials should first meet to have candid talks on what each other wants and find mutual ground. I would like to tell the North that it must respond to our talks offers more actively.”
Including the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation’s proposal to Pyongyang for inter-Korean talks made last month, the South has maintained its position that it wants to restart government talks and discuss all issues.
“Park made clear her intention that she will take a step-by-step approach toward a summit,” said Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK Institute. “Starting with reunions of families separated by the Korean War, she wants to have high-level government talks and then move toward a summit.”
In her address, Park proposed that reunions of separated families take place before next month’s Lunar New Year holidays. Stressing that the clock is ticking for elderly Koreans who have not seen their loved ones for decades, Park said, “I expect the North to accept this proposal with an open mind.”
She also proposed that the two Koreas hold joint events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule.
Asked about new sanctions imposed by the United States on the North in retaliation for its hacking of Sony Pictures, Park dismissed speculation that escalated tensions between Pyongyang and Washington would impact inter-Korean ties.
“We will continue our efforts to resolve pending issues through talks with the North based on our principles,” she said. “The United States had to take the measures because of its own circumstances. But in the end, we have the same goal that the North must become a proper member of the international society and resolve pending issues.”
BY SER MYO-JA, JEONG WON-YEOB [firstname.lastname@example.org]