Come to the tableTwo days before the fifth anniversary of the sinking of our Cheonan warship, North Korea’s National Defense Commission reiterated its earlier position that it had noting to do with the attack near the tense maritime border in the Yellow Sea on March 26, 2010. Responding to the South Korean government’s demand for an apology for the tragic incident, which took the lives of 46 sailors, Pyongyang responded by saying, “The demand is nonsense, and a proposal for talks to discuss the lifting of the May 24 sanctions doesn’t make sense either.” That’s regrettable. Despite Pyongyang’s persistent denial of its accountability for the deadly attack, the latest remarks ring alarm bells in terms of timing and degree.
That our warship was destroyed by a North Korean torpedo attack was proven by a joint international investigation team. The May 24 sanctions were the action our government took to hold Pyongyang accountable for the attack. Since South-North relations have been frozen for five years, however, the government has been requesting high-level talks to address the issue of the sanctions through dialogue with the North. The government also mapped out a plan to find a breakthrough diplomatically such as an indirect expression of regret or unofficial apology for the sinking. But the North refused our proposal for inter-Korean talks aimed at resolving the May 24 sanctions issue.
If North Korea believes it can get away with dodging responsibility for the attack, that’s a great miscalculation. If it is reluctant to sit down with the South to save face, it can use secret dialogue channels. If both sides discuss the issue of lifting the sanctions at an open meeting after exchanging and coordinating their positions through unofficial dialogue, it would be possible to find some common ground.
Pyongyang must confront reality. Instead, it resorted to the nonsensical stance of supporting Kim Ki-jong’s insane knife attack on U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert, which even made China uncomfortable. The North must not distort its southern brethren’s well-intentioned proposal. Pyongyang must come to the table if it really wants to see the sanctions lifted.
Icy ties are not beneficial to us. On the 70th anniversary of the division of the peninsula, we must get over the current stalemate with flexibility and draw an apology from Pyongyang for the Cheonan sinking in return for lifting the sanctions. The government can take preemptive measures to encourage the North to return to the bargaining table.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 25, Page 30