South Korea plans to ramp up efforts to prepare for unification and seek dialogue with North Korea on a variety of cooperative projects this year, the government said Monday.
Under the plan, Seoul will push for a trial run of a rail line connecting Seoul to the North Korean cities of Pyongyang and Sinuiju and try to enact a law to lay the foundation for the peaceful reunification of the divided Korean Peninsula, the unification, foreign and defense ministries said in their joint policy report to President Park Geun-hye for this year.
Details and schedules of the plans have yet to be determined through future discussion with the North, officials said.
"The government has set this year as a starting point for widening discussion over unification and making progress in inter-Korean relations as it marks the 70th anniversary of independence from Japanese colonial rule, as well as the South-North division," a unification ministry official said.
South Korea calls on North Korea to respond to an offer for the resumption of inter-Korean talks so the countries can have a chance to discuss these issues in detail, he said, referring to Seoul's overture in late December.
Under the policy plan, Seoul will also push for a variety of joint inter-Korean commemorative events to mark the 70th anniversary of what are now the two Koreas' independence in 1945 from Japan's colonial rule.
The South also plans to set up Korean cultural centers in Seoul and Pyongyang to induce better cultural exchanges. Besides that, Seoul will seek other joint projects with the North on the three non-political fields of humanitarian assistance, environment and culture as part of the unification preparatory efforts.
Other envisioned joint plans include the opening of a logistics route that connects a South Korean port to the railway linking North Korea's Rajin port to the Russian border city of Khasan.
Despite the envisioned fence-mending measures, South Korea will go ahead with its annual joint military exercises with the United States this year, a high-ranking defense ministry official said on background, rejecting the North's recent calls for scrapping them.
"(The government) maintains its stance that joint South Korea-U.S. exercises should be carried out continually and consistently ... because they are a core part of strong national defense capacity building," the defense official said, adding that "for that reason, the defense ministry cannot accept North Korea's calls over joint South Korea-U.S. exercises."
Two major joint Seoul-Washington military drills -- Key Resolve and Foal Eagle -- are scheduled to kick off in South Korea in March.
Joint Seoul-Washington military drills have been at the center of recent inter-Korean feuds with Pyongyang vehemently demanding the suspension of what it calls a war rehearsal targeting North Korea.
Earlier this month, the North proposed that it would temporarily suspend further nuclear tests if the U.S. halts the joint military drills with the South this year. The U.S. squarely dismissed the proposal as an "implicit threat."
On the diplomatic front, Seoul will pursue closer cooperation with neighbors, especially the U.S. and China, in order to expedite progress in the international efforts to denuclearize the communist country, the policy plan showed.
The country will also make utmost efforts to resume the six-party talks, involving two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, to bring out meaningful progress in the denuclearization efforts.
South Korea's foreign minister said that Seoul will consider holding direct consultations with Pyongyang over denuclearization in a bid to help revive the momentum for the long-stalled six-party talks.
"Progress in the inter-Korean dialogue tends to have a positive effect in giving a boost to the denuclearization efforts including the six-party talks," Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told a press conference later Monday.
"At the same time, once the process for North Korea's denuclearization revives, it will also positively affect inter-Korean talks. In that sense, Seoul plans to consider consultations with the North over denuclearization."
The 2015 policy plan by the South Korean ministries comes however as inter-Korean relations still remain mired in a long stalemate.
In a bid for a breakthrough in inter-Korean tension, Seoul offered to hold high-level inter-Korean dialogue in late December to discuss pending issues, including the humanitarian event to allow the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
The North has not yet come up with an official response three weeks after the proposal was issued, despite North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's alluding to possible inter-Korean dialogue in his New Year's address.
The North has repeatedly threatened a nuclear war against the joint Seoul-Washington military exercises and denounced South Korea's policy toward the communist country.
Referring to the North's protracted silence over Seoul's talks offer, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said in a separate news conference late Monday that "Holding talks is the first step toward resolving distrust and military tension between the South and the North, but the North has not yet come forward to respond and (I am) forced into a situation where skepticism over the North's willingness to talk is inevitable."
Also touching on the trans-peninsula train project, Ryoo said the government hopes for and will work toward launching the project around the Aug. 15 National Liberation Day. (Yonhap)