S. Korea proposes minister-level talks with N. Korea in January

December 29, 2014

By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL (Yonhap) — South Korea on Monday proposed minister-level talks with North Korea next month to discuss pending bilateral issues, including the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said his government sent a fax message to the North offering dialogue in January on “issues of mutual concern.” The recipient is Kim Yang-gon, director of the North’s United Front Department in charge of South Korea affairs.

Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae announces the government's new offer of talks with North Korea during a press conference in Seoul on Dec. 29, 2014.

Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae announces the government’s new offer of talks with North Korea during a press conference in Seoul on Dec. 29, 2014.

The move apparently reflects the Park Geun-hye administration’s resolve to improve ties with Pyongyang and take the initiative in relevant efforts, as it enters the third year in power.

“The South and the North will have to meet each other and discuss ways toward a peaceful reunification,” Ryoo said at a press conference.

He said he will lead the South’s delegation if the meeting is held, adding that the venue can be Seoul, Pyongyang or another place agreed to by the two sides.

The two Koreas had their last ministerial talks in Seoul in May 2007, although they held a vice ministerial meeting in February this year.

In the coming year, Ryoo noted, Korea is to mark the 70th anniversary of liberation from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule.

Through the proposed talks, in particular, the South hopes to arrange another meeting between separated families before the Lunar New Year holidays in mid-February, said the minister.

He said the dialogue offer is in line with the 2015 road map of a presidential panel tasked with preparing for the possible reunification of Korea.

Ryoo doubles as deputy head of the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation chaired by President Park.

Seoul plans to expand cultural and sports exchanges with Pyongyang, such as football matches and other events, with the goal of improving ties, he said.

Pyongyang gave no immediate response. It remains uncertain whether the unpredictable nation will accept the proposal.

The communist North has a negative view of the South’s presidential committee, claiming it is designed to seek reunification through absorption of the North.

But officials here do not rule out the possibility that the North will respond positively as it has expressed hope for improved relations in 2015, which marks the 15th anniversary of the June 15 Declaration, a deal reached at the historic inter-Korean summit and notably valued by Pyongyang.

The South’s proposal came three days ahead of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s message expected to outline Pyongyang’s strategy on inter-Korean ties and relations with the United States.

“It might have been safer to wait until (the publication of) Kim’s message, but it could have given the impression that the South is passive. We offered the talks at the end of this year in a bid to help take the initiative in efforts to improve inter-Korean relations,” a government official said.

The two Koreas had agreed to hold another round of vice ministerial talks between late October and early November during a surprise visit to South Korea by a high-powered North Korean delegation. But the North backtracked on the agreement in protest of anti-Pyongyang leaflets scattered by South Korean activists.