The Seoul government said Thursday it has decided to accept North Korea's proposal to hold high-level military talks which came a day after the U.S. and China called on the communist state to end provocations.
The proposal is the latest in a series of recent overtures from the North for dialogue with its southern neighbor against which it made two deadly attacks last year.
North Korea said it will speak about its position on the sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan in March and the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island in November, and suggested discussions on how to ease the military tension across the Korean Peninsula.
"Under the name of Kim Yong-chun, minister of the People’s Armed Forces, North Korea sent a faxed message at around 11:46 a.m., proposing high-level military talks to address pending bilateral military issues,” said Chang Gwang-il, deputy minister for policy at the Ministry of National Defense.
The South Korean government said it will suggest preliminary talks during which the two sides will discuss the agenda, venue and date of the talks.
Seoul's Unification Ministry said it plans to propose a separate round of high-level talks to confirm the North's earnest intent to denuclearize.
The two Koreas held their first defense-minister talks on the South Korean resort island of Jeju in September 2000. The second was held in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang in November 2007.
This file photo shows South and North Korean delegates to the high-level military talks between the two countries in Pyongyang, 2007. (The Korea Herald)
South Korea has maintained that before any inter-Korean talks, the North should show sincerity and take “responsible measures” for the March sinking of the corvette Cheonan and the November artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island.
The two incidents have sent tensions on the Korean Peninsula soaring to its highest level in recent years. The artillery attack on the northwestern border island marked the first attack on a civilian area since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Speaking at a joint press conference at the White House with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said, “I told President Hu that we appreciated China’s role in reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. And we agreed that North Korea must avoid further provocations. We agreed that the paramount goal must be complete denuclearization of the peninsula.”
During his visit to Seoul last Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that “diplomatic engagement” with North Korea was possible, starting with direct engagement between the two Koreas.
He also said that when North Korea’s actions give reason to believe that talks with the North could be conducted “in good faith,” the multilateral aid-for-denuclearization talks could resume.
Observers here said the remarks by Gates indicated that Washington wants Seoul to be flexible in its consideration of dialogue with the North. They also said that the remarks sent a signal to the North that it is important to improve inter-Korean ties before the resumption of the six-party talks.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com