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[Editorial] Volcanic eruption?

Pyongyang has repeatedly proposed to hold inter-Korea talks only to be rebuffed by Seoul. The latest proposal is to discuss a potential volcanic eruption on Mount Baekdu, a dormant volcano on North Korea’s border with China.

On Thursday, Pyongyang called for talks with Seoul on the possibility of volcanic activity resuming at Mount Baekdu ― discharging hot magma and spewing ash and gases. It proposed a field trip and joint studies. Intentionally or incidentally, the proposal followed the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11.

In earlier weeks, Pyongyang offered to resume all types of inter-Korea dialogue ranging from summit talks and high-level military talks to Red Cross talks and tourism talks. But it was suspected of aiming at securing a South Korean commitment to resuming food aid when it made these overtures.

Seoul turned all of them down, saying there would be no inter-Korean talks until after Pyongyang held itself responsible for the sinking of a South Korean corvette a year ago and committed itself never to engage in unprovoked hostilities, as it did when it shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong last November.

South Korea does not rule out the possibility of Mount Baekdu becoming an active volcano. On the contrary, some South Korean geologists have warned in the past that the mountain might erupt and that it could have dire consequences not just on North Korea but on the South. Moreover, earthquakes hit nearby areas, which geologists said could be a sign of a forthcoming eruption.

Nonetheless, there has been no report on any sign of an imminent eruption, which adds to suspicions about the motive behind the call for talks on Mount Baekdu. In the absence of any such indication, Seoul has no reason to drop its preconditions for dialogue and rush to the proposed talks.
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