North implies it’s open to talksNorth Korea said it was open to holding talks with South Korea in the spirit of two joint agreements declared by their former leaders, but added that the right atmosphere should be in place to facilitate trust and reconciliation.
In a rare statement on Monday carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, Pyongyang expressed its willingness for talks with Seoul, saying there was “no reason to hold off talks” with South Korea, but that “the right atmosphere” must be established.
The reclusive government added that aside from just talking, South Korea needed to demonstrate its respect for the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration, adopted during the 2000 Inter-Korean Summit that affirmed both countries’ commitment toward advancing relations, as well as a peace declaration signed on Oct. 4, 2007.
Signed by former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the declaration called for global discussions to replace the armistice that effectively ended the 1950-53 Korean War with a peace treaty.
“If an atmosphere for trust and reconciliation is provided, there is no reason to hold off talks between the two governments,” the North said.
The dispatch, which came on the 15th anniversary of the June 15 Declaration, signed by former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il, has heightened hopes for a thaw in frozen inter-Korean relations.
In response to the North’s announcement, the South Korean government said in a statement Monday that it had always respected the spirit of two joint declarations and sought to build a sense of trust by proposing talks with the North.
It added that the North should not put in place “unfair” preconditions for inter-Korean talks, referring to Pyongyang’s demand that South Korea halt its joint military drills with the United States.
Some have interpreted Pyongyang’s statement Monday as a sign of its willingness to bring an end to the gridlock in bilateral relations.
“Considering the dispatch was issued in the official name of North Korea, it is reasonable to assume that Pyongyang recognizes the need for talks,” Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University, told the Korea JoongAng Daily.
Nevertheless, North Korea has continued to blame Seoul for the standstill and reiterated its demand that joint military drills with the United States - namely the Key Resolve and Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises - be halted.
North Korea said that South Korea has wasted “many good chances” to improve bilateral ties by consistently provoking the regime through joint military drills with Washington.
Pyongyang’s rare announcement comes amid repeated calls by Seoul that it come to the negotiating table to address a myriad of issues, which include lifting a package of economic sanctions imposed in 2010 in retaliation for the regime’s torpedoing of the Cheonan warship, which left 46 sailors dead.
Expectations for a thaw in ties this year subsided after the two Koreas failed to agree upon hosting a joint event to commemorate the June 15 Declaration, which paved the way for inter-Korean business cooperation, including the launch of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, where more than 120 South Korean companies employ 54,000 North Korean workers.
Under the sanctions imposed for the Cheonan’s sinking, all bilateral economic cooperation has been suspended except for work at Kaesong.
“The language the North used in the statement was much more refined than in previous statements,” said an official from the Blue House, adding that other announcements typically insulted the South Korean government and President Park.
“It’s positive that the North brought up the issue of talks, even though it attached a list of conditions to it,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
BY KANG JIN-KYU [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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