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Seoul snubs N.K. proposal for halt of military drills

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Published : 2014-07-01 21:17
Updated : 2014-07-01 21:17

South Korea on Tuesday brushed off the North’s proposal to cease military drills and slander on both sides of the border, calling for a “sincere” resolve to forsake its nuclear program rather than a token peace offensive.

The “special offer,” made a day earlier by the National Defense Commission, included a halt of “all military hostilities” and “psychological smear campaigns” starting Friday. “We suggest taking practical measures to bring about a new turning point for reconciliation and cooperation,” it said.

The rare conciliatory gesture coincided with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s planned visit to Seoul on Thursday and the 42nd anniversary of the July 4 Joint Communique calling for efforts for better relations and a future reunification. The move was also seen as an attempt by the Kim Jong-un regime to foster a thaw ahead of the 2014 Asian Games, which kicks off in September.

The Unification Ministry called the proposal “preposterous” and “lacking in sincerity,” blasting Pyongyang for shifting the blame for heightened military tension and strained cross-border relations.

“It does not make sense that the North speaks of promoting a peaceful mood while pledging not to relinquish its parallel pursuit of nuclear and economic development in any circumstances, even in the special offer,” ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do said at a news conference.

“If North Korea truly wants peace on the Korean Peninsula, it must not only stop slander and threats of a provocation but also show sincerity toward resolving the nuclear issue that poses a fundamental threat to peninsular peace.”

Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae also dismissed the offer as nothing new, accusing Pyongyang of breaching a February agreement in which the two Koreas agreed to stop slander and work to improve ties.

“There are issues that we can’t accept practically,” he told a parliamentary session earlier in the day, pointing to the annual South Korea-U.S. Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercise scheduled for August.

The North deems the joint military drills as a rehearsal for an invasion. But the allies say the annual events are defensive in nature.

“It’s unusual in terms of the format but the content is in line with what (the North) has been demanding since January. It was the Northern side that restarted slander,” the minister noted.

The proposal is the latest in a string of overtures by the communist country in recent weeks following months-long tension amid its threats of a nuclear test and derisive verbal attacks against Seoul and Washington.

Last week, the two Koreas held their first talks in six months over a joint factory park in the North Korean border city of Gaeseong, while several South Korean civic groups crossed the border for meetings on humanitarian and cultural projects.

But the latest move appears to be primarily a message for the visiting Xi, who is expected to stress his opposition to the North’s nuclear program during a summit with President Park Geun-hye.

“(North Korea) seems to be trying to give an impression that it is working to lead cross-border relations in a forward-looking way,” Ryoo added.

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)

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