The Park Geun-hye administration is not yet considering lifting a set of tough sanctions on North Korea, an official said Monday, dismissing media reports of a possible shift in Seoul’s policy.
“There is no change in the government’s basic position with regard to the May 24th Measures,” unification ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said at a press briefing.
He was referring to economic sanctions imposed on Pyongyang in 2010 by the then Lee Myung-bak government for the North’s deadly torpedo attack on a South Korean warship, the Cheonan.
The measure has effectively suspended all inter-Korean cooperation projects except for the Kaesong industrial complex. It also prohibits North Korean ships from sailing through the South’s waters.
The South still believes that the sanctions should be maintained until the North takes “responsible steps,” said Lim.
He described as “unconfirmed” a local news report that Pyongyang had already expressed regret over the Cheonan incident many times.
“Even if the North did so, such a stance would hold true only when it is expressed formally,” Lim said.
Seoul’s firm stance on the sanctions issue is not new but has been reaffirmed at a sensitive time.
Even some senior ruling party officials here have called on the government to remove the sanctions to help produce a breakthrough in restarting meaningful dialogue with Pyongyang.
Seoul has already proposed high-level talks with Pyongyang. The May 24th Measures would likely be included on the agenda in any such talks.
President Park’s national security advisor Kim Kwan-jin reportedly plans to visit Washington this month for discussions on ways to deal with North Korea.
The North’s top diplomat Ri Su-yong is also expected to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York slated for later this month.
“We hope the North Korean foreign minister’s trip will be conducive to improving inter-Korean relations, reconciliation and cooperation as well as peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the ministry spokesman said.
South Korea, meanwhile, kept the possibility open for another round of temporary reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
The South suggested the resumption of the event on the occasion of the Chuseok holiday that falls on Sept. 7. The North has been unresponsive.
Nonetheless, Lim said, such a family reunion event can be held anytime “before it gets too cold.”
“We hope that the North will respond positively to our offer and a family reunion event will take place when weather conditions are good,” he said.
But the ministry held fast to its position on the North’s decision not to send a cheerleading squad to the upcoming Incheon Asian Games.
“We have no plans to request North Korea to dispatch a cheerleading group,” Lim said.
Pyongyang has blamed Seoul for the reversal of its decision to send cheerleaders to Incheon, along with athletes.
The North’s key newspaper Rodong Sinmun claimed in a commentary that Seoul lost a chance to advance relations with Pyongyang. (Yonhap)