S. Korea to formally propose talks with N. Korea if pandemic wanes: minister

November 18, 2020

South Korean Unification Minister Lee In-young said Wednesday he will make a formal offer for talks with North Korea once the coronavirus pandemic wanes, saying that he is ready for “the best dialogue.”

Lee made the remarks during an interview with broadcaster KBS as U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is expected to focus on cooperating with allies and working-level diplomacy to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program.

“I am ready to exchange the best dialogue at any place and at any time if North Korea accepts the offer. I plan to make a formal proposal to North Korea for talks once the COVID-19 situation eases,” the minister said.

Lee also reiterated his calls for inter-Korean cooperation on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

“If the two Koreas can cooperate in coronavirus treatment and vaccine, it will provide an opportunity for the North to overcome the economic challenges it faces from antivirus measures,” he said.

He urged the North to refrain from provoking the new U.S. administration and to take “a flexible approach,” recalling that the North conducted a nuclear test during the first year of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration.

“I cannot say that there is no possibility (of provocations) because there were cases in the past under the Obama administration … but I think it is more likely that the North will take a flexible approach than a belligerent approach this time.”

Lee dismissed speculation on the possibility of any high-level talks or sending envoys to Pyongyang, saying that the decision is up to President Moon Jae-in’s “political judgment.”

He added that the ministry has “not made any informal contact” with North Korea since it blew up a joint liaison office in its border town of Kaesong in June in protest of anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent from the South.

The North has since cut all cross-border communications lines and has not responded to Seoul’s calls for their restoration.

Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang remain stalled after the 2019 summit in Hanoi between the two leaders ended without a deal. The two sides were far apart over how far Pyongyang should denuclearize in order for Washington to offer concessions.

Unification Minister Lee In-young speaks during a meeting of the ministry at the government complex in Seoul on July 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

Unification Minister Lee In-young speaks during a meeting of the ministry at the government complex in Seoul on July 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

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