Pyongyang on Thursday turned down Seoul’s proposal for working-level talks to discuss ways to regularly hold reunions of families separated by the Korean War, citing the absence of the necessary political environment and atmosphere.
But North Korea apparently indicated its willingness to engage in a higher-level dialogue in the future. “Given the current state of inter-Korean relations, such a critical humanitarian issue as regular family reunions is not a matter to be resolved through consultations between the two sides’ Red Crosses,” it said via a border telephone line.
The South expressed regret, urging again for the North to reconsider and respond to its offer.
“As we have said repeatedly, the separated families issue is something that the two Koreas should resolve preferentially without linking it to any other issue, and will provide a major opportunity for developing inter-Korean relations,” the Unification Ministry said in a statement.
On Wednesday, the ministry suggested that the two sides’ Red Cross officials meet at the Southern side of the truce village of Panmunjeom on March 12 to confer on “fundamental measures” to resolve the longstanding issue.
The move followed President Park Geun-hye’s call for regular family gatherings in her March 1 Independence Movement Day address, powered by the first such event in more than three years late last month.
But the proposal faced grim prospects in the first place given the tension on the peninsula heightened by the communist state’s firing of rockets in an apparent show of force against ongoing South Korea-U.S. joint military drills.
The reclusive regime has long been reluctant to hold the reunions, apparently due to fears of exposing its impoverished people to their relatives in the affluent, democratic South.
Yet Pyongyang could agree to a high-level meeting after the end of the military exercises as it continues to stress its resolve for better cross-border ties as a top national priority.
In the run-up to the latest family reunions, the two sides held talks led by Kim Kyou-hyun, vice chief of the South’s presidential National Security Office, and Won Dong-yon, deputy head of the United Front Department of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.
“I don’t think North Korea meant to refuse to discuss the separated families issue at all, but rather rejected the formality of consultations,” a ministry official told reporters on customary condition of anonymity.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)