Pyongyang silent on offer for talks

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Pyongyang silent on offer for talks

North Korea gave no direct response by Thursday night to Seoul’s offer for military talks today, the latest in a series of blows for a left-leaning president whose core policy agenda lies in pushing Pyongyang towards denuclearization through inter-Korean dialogue.

Without specifically mentioning President Moon Jae-in’s recent proposal, the North said through its state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Thursday that it was “illogical” for the South Korean government to vow to improve inter-Korean relations when it was flagrantly treating the regime with hostility.

In its typically bombastic tone, the newspaper said South Korea’s current administration was “no different” from the former conservative administrations of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye in that it was siding with the United States, which it feels does not seek inter-Korean peace and unity.

“How can the North and South possibly expect to reconcile, unite or improve relations under such circumstances?” the paper asked.

The two countries can never reach a peaceful state as long as Seoul “colludes with outside forces and pursues confrontation” with Pyongyang, the commentary continued.

A senior official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations, said Seoul did not have any deadline on the proposed military talks but hoped Pyongyang will agree before next Thursday, July 27, when the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953 for a cease-fire.

The source refused to explain whether Seoul had any kind of plan B in mind.

“We’ve said numerous times before, including in the joint statement with Washington following the bilateral summit, that we don’t have any anti-North Korea policy,” the official said in reference to the Rodong Sinmun report.

“Our government hopes to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula through peaceful means, and in order to overcome the crisis that the peninsula is now facing, feels that it’s necessary to improve inter-Korean relations,” the official continued.

On Monday, Seoul formally asked Pyongyang to hold military talks today and discuss a reunion for war-torn families on Aug. 1.

North Korea hasn’t responded to the reunion talks either.

The last time Seoul held government talks with Pyongyang was in December 2015 under the former Park Geun-hye administration. The last family reunion was held in October that year.

Seoul said in its statement that the military talks would be aimed at ceasing all “acts of hostility” near the border line, but did not specify any agenda items nor mention who from South Korea would take part, leaving some wiggle room for the North to flesh out the terms.

The military talks were suggested to be held at Tongilgak, a building operated by the North Korean government in the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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