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Seoul to leave dialogue channel open for Pyongyang

South Korea’s unification ministry said the government will open the possibility of a high-level dialogue with North Korea in line with President Lee Myung-bak’s New Year address, as part of its yearly plan for 2012.

However, the ministry made it clear that Pyongyang should come clean on the two deadly attacks on South Korea in 2010 before seeking progress in inter-Korean relations.

“To keep the Korean Peninsula peaceful and stable, the ministry will establish a South-North dialogue channel and maintain the dialogue channel stable,” Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik told President Lee during the ministry’s briefing on 2012 policy plans in Seoul.

“Possible discussions to advance inter-Korean relations will cover reunion of separated families and business exchanges in the Gaeseong Industrial Complex and Mount Geumgang resort, among others,” he said.

The ministry’s possible discussions with the North also include implementing the June 15 Joint Declaration agreed between the South’s late former president Kim Dae-jung and the North’s late leader Kim Jong-il in 2000, and the Oct. 4 declaration reached between the South’s late former president Roh Moo-hyun and the late Kim in 2007.

Lee had said in his New Year address on Jan. 2 that he would leave “a window of opportunity” open to improve relations with North Korea.

If a dialogue channel is secured, South Korea could discuss all kinds of items including follow-up measures on the sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 South Korean seamen in March 2010 and the shelling of a South Korean island near the inter-Korean maritime border that killed two South Korean marines and two civilians in November 2010, Yu told reporters.

He also said that South Korea has no immediate plan to be the first to propose a meeting with North Korea but did not rule out the possibility completely.

The two Koreas held more than 20 rounds of Cabinet-level talks, the highest channel of regular dialogue, for eight years after a landmark summit in 2000, to give momentum to reconciliation and cross-border projects.

However, no high-level talks have been held since 2008 when Lee’s conservative government took power in Seoul with a hard-line policy toward Pyongyang.

The ministry also said it would set up a “unification fund” this year to prepare for eventual reunification with the North. Yu told college students in a speech on Wednesday that reunification is not a matter of choice but a must for Korean people.

By Kim Yoon-mi