Ball in the North’s court

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Ball in the North’s court

The ongoing high-level talks between South and North Korea to address the standoff along the tense border suggest that they have started a momentous phase in inter-Korean relations. If the head-on-head meeting were simply intended to deal with the North’s land mine provocation, they should have reached some sort of conclusion by now - after three consecutive, round-the-clock days of negotiation.

The Blue House explained Sunday that both sides had discussed ways to resolve the highly volatile military confrontation over the detonation of land mines and the resumption of loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts in order to improve inter-Korean ties down the road. As we pointed out from the early stages of the conflict, whether we can turn this unrivalled crisis into an opportunity depends on both sides’ attitudes.

Seoul and Pyongyang must approach the issues with sincerity. President Park Geun-hye’s stern remarks at a meeting of senior secretaries was appropriate. She said the government will not stop its loudspeaker propaganda war unless the North apologizes for the land mines and promises not to repeat such a tragic attack. That translates into a resolute proclamation that the government will not allow a makeshift resolution of such cases from now on. At the same time, Park promised that her administration will do its best to deepen symbiotic inter-Korean relations and peace on the Korean Peninsula if the dialogue runs smoothly. Now, it’s North Korea’s turn to demonstrate sincerity.

Pyongyang must react to Park’s proposal. Of course, it could be hard to reverse its earlier position after having denied its accountability for the land mines and blaming the South for a “fabrication.” But the dilemma can be easily solved if the North’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un makes up his mind. We believe it would not be so difficult to find a proper phrasing that would not hurt the self-esteem of the leader.

Our government also needs to demonstrate firmness towards the North’s double track strategy. But the government must not forget that’s only for the peace of the peninsula. As we have repeatedly said, the government must fight back when the North provokes us, but at the same time it must gain as much as it can from dialogue. Some experts expected the Park government will not budge an inch. But that proved wrong. It is time for Park’s proclaimed resoluteness and principled approach to be accompanied by lenience and flexibility to allow a greater yield than before.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 25, Page 30

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