After North Korea briefly mentioned talks in a statement earlier this week, local observers are split between retaining the current hardline approach and being more open to talks in addressing inter-Korean tensions.
Last month, the U.N. adopted a new resolution that had what South Korean officials called “the strongest ever sanctions” against Pyongyang, in a punitive action against its Jan. 6 nuclear testing and Feb. 7 long-range rocket launch.
Some observers said that the North’s mention of talks -- albeit in the form of berating Seoul and Washington -- indicates that the communist country is ready to sit down for talks.
“Although the negotiation is not even being mentioned among Korean officials, the U.S. appears to at least consider negotiations,” said Kim Jae-chun, a professor at Sogang University’s graduate school of international studies.
“South Korea should avoid getting dragged into the issue. But if negotiations indeed start, Seoul cannot continue refusing. South Korea should establish its own version of peace regime,” he said during an academic conference to mark the 25th anniversary of the Korea Institute for National Unification.
There had been unconfirmed reports that Washington and Pyongyang contacted each other prior to February’s nuclear test. China, the North’s biggest trading partner, has also suggested combining talks with denuclearization of the country.
But the official position of the U.S., reiterated by Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel Monday, remains that North Korea should freeze all its nuclear activities and take steps toward denuclearization if the talks to resolve the standoff are to resume.
Observers have cautioned against severing all lines of communication with North Korea, which they said may even result in Seoul being left out of resumed talks.
Professor Moo-jin at the University of North Korean Studies, who has stressed the importance of retaining a communication line, said that Pyongyang may attempt to change its course ahead of its ruling Workers’ Party convention in May.
But Moon Sung-mook, a senior researcher for the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, stressed that it was time for the South to continue its hard-line policy to change the Kim Jong-un regime “with all means possible.”
President Park Geun-hye has sent tough warnings against the North, mentioning the regime’s collapse should the country insist on retaining its nuclear programs.
Moon suggested that the government should take initiative in the current issue and use measures like cutting off the funding for Kim leadership, acquiring the means for preemptive strikes against the North and continually raising the issue of human rights violation in North Korea.
“There are limitations to the international society’s effort in addressing the problem of North Korea’s nuclear programs,” he said.
Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at local think tank Sejong Institute, assessed that the structure of North Korean leadership is “more suitable than ever” to push for an economic reform and opening its economy to the outside world.
“The status of the military has relatively weakened (in North Korean politics) while that of party elite has strengthened,” he said, pointing out that Park Pong-ju, thought to be pro-economic reform has been named premier since 2013.
South Korean government remains steadfast to its position, saying that it was “not yet a time for discussion” and that it should focus on the economic sanctions for now.
By Yoon Min-sik (email@example.com)