NATIONAL

S. Korea proposes high-level talks with NK

By Jung Min-kyung
  • Published : Jan 2, 2018 - 17:52
  • Updated : Jan 2, 2018 - 17:52
South Korea’s call to the North went unanswered Tuesday afternoon with Pyongyang not responding to Seoul’s latest efforts to restart an inter-Korean dialogue channel through a hotline in the truce village of Panmunjom. 

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon (Yonhap)

“(We) tried to communicate with North Korea at around 4 p.m. through a communication channel in Panmunjom, but North Korea remained unresponsive,” the Unification Ministry said Tuesday.

The South Korean government offered high-level talks with North Korea to be held on Jan. 9 to discuss its participation in the PyeongChang Olympics, following North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s speech in which he said he is willing to send a delegation to the sporting event.

“The South Korean government offers to hold high-level talks at the Peace House in Panmunjom to discuss matters regarding the North’s participation at the PyeongChang Olympics,” Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said at a press conference earlier Tuesday, while noting the fast-approaching Winter Games.

“We hope that South and North Korea will sit down to discuss the North‘s participation in the games and ways to improve inter-Korean ties in a frank manner. The government has a willingness to have dialogue with the North regardless of timing, place and format,” he added.

During his televised New Year’s Day speech, Kim mentioned the PyeongChang Olympics as a chance to “showcase the national pride” and that his country was willing to talk about its participation in the event.

“North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to showcase the national pride and we wish the Games a success. Officials from the two Koreas may urgently meet to discuss the possibility,” said Kim.

Upon taking office in May, President Moon Jae-in has made efforts to reconnect key inter-Korean dialogue channels, which have been suspended since February 2016. The North has remained mum towards Seoul’s proposals for talks after the inter-Korean industrial complex was shuttered.

The North continued to ignore such offers even when the South officially called for military talks to alleviate border tensions and a separate talk for reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

If Pyongyang responds to the latest offer, it would mark the first high-level inter-Korean talks since December 2015.

Earlier in the day, a ministry official said that the South Korean government is reviewing ways to hold a meeting with the North on the Olympics.

“If a meeting is held, issues on the North Korean team’s residence, their travel route to South Korea, joint entrance, and cheering squads will be discussed,” the official said.

President Moon called for the South Korean government to roll-out relevant measures to help Seoul smoothly lay a foundation for dealing with the North’s response towards an offer of talks and the Winter Olympics.

“I hope the Unification Ministry and the Ministry of Culture and Sports will swiftly come up with measures to quickly restore South-North Korean dialogue and realize the North Korean delegation‘s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics,” Moon said in a Cabinet meeting held at Cheong Wa Dae.

Moon claimed that such remarks were a positive response to South Korea’s longstanding proposal asking the North to contribute in turning the Winter Games into a “peace festival.”

“I view Chairman Kim Jong-un’s remarks about sending a North Korean delegation to the PyeongChang Olympics and holding government-level dialogue as a response to our proposal to turn the PyeongChang Olympic Games into a groundbreaking chance to improve South-North relations and establish peace,” Moon added.

A Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson echoed Moon’s remarks saying that South Korea welcomes Kim’s address on dispatching a delegation and proposing talks, while stressing that the successful launch of the Winter Games will “contribute to stability of not only the Korean Peninsula, but also in East Asia and the rest of the world.”

Despite Seoul’s mounting hopes, the United States is maintaining a cautious stance on the matter and has yet to release a solid statement addressing Kim’s speech. The young North Korean leader, aside from delivering a conciliatory message to Seoul, also warned that Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal was complete with a launch button on his desk.

“We are in close contact with the ROK (South Korea) about our unified response to North Korea,” Voice of America quoted a State Department official as saying when asked to comment on the address.

US President Donald Trump only said “we’ll see” when asked a similar question on his way to a New Year’s celebration at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

South Korea’s suggestion to the US that the annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises, which are likely to coincide with the Olympics period, be postponed, also remains unanswered. Moon said the US is “currently reviewing” the possibility, but he also added it all “depends on how North Korea behaves,” in an interview with NBC last month.

Moon also asked the Foreign Ministry here on Tuesday to “closely consult” with allies such as the US and the international community as South Korea continues to push for an improvement in the inter-Korean relationship as North Korea’s nuclear issue remains unresolved.

Analysts are saying that a thaw in the inter-Korean relations is likely to come with the talks on PyeongChang Olympics.

“An inter-Korean meeting to discuss North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics is forecast to be held soon, which is expected to create a mood for a thaw in the relations,” said Chung Sung-jang, director of unification strategy studies at the Sejong Institute.

Chung added that that the annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises are likely to be delayed, but the South Korean government must think how to balance its North Korea policy with the US and China in the meantime.

“(Despite an acceleration in the improvement of South-North ties), South Korea must consider how to balance North Korean nuclear issues and improve inter-Korean relations while also thinking about strengthening cooperation with the US and China on North Korean policies.”

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)