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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 11)

2018/01/11 07:33

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Next step for detente:

Peace cannot come without denuclearization

Inter-Korean talks held for the first time in about two years Tuesday signaled a relatively good start to efforts to improve long-strained bilateral relations. It is good to see both sides agree not only on North Korea's participation in the Feb. 9 to 25 Winter Olympic Games, but also on a plan to hold military talks to help ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

We welcome the results of the talks, and hope that Seoul and Pyongyang will work together to make the Winter Games a "Peace Olympics." We positively assess the North's promise to send a large delegation, including athletes, a cheering squad, an art troupe, a taekwondo demonstration team and a press corps to PyeongChang.

It is meaningful that the North accepted a proposal by the South to hold military talks. The acceptance helped Pyongyang dispel suspicions that it might try to limit the inter-Korean dialogue only to Olympics-related issues. Regrettably, however, the North turned down another South Korean offer to organize reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War during the Lunar New Year holiday next month.

Despite growing expectations for inter-Korean rapprochement, there are concerns about abrupt peace overtures by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. These concerns cannot be shaken off if Pyongyang refuses to take the path toward denuclearization. However, the talks clearly indicated that the North won't give up its nuclear and missile programs.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, the South's chief delegate at the talks, stressed that it was necessary to have dialogue to discuss the North's denuclearization. But, his North Korean counterpart Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, reacted angrily to the minister's stance on this.

Ri's reaction demonstrated that the North has no intention of abonding its nuclear weapons. It also explicitly implied that Pyongyang is not willing to discuss the matter with Seoul. The North has repeatedly argued that the issue is between Pyongyang and Washington. This attitude raised suspicions that the North has offered the olive branch to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington and weaken international sanctions imposed for the North's provocations.

Against this backdrop, President Moon Jae-in floated the idea of a summit with Kim Jong-un. In a New Year's news conference one day after the South-North talks, Moon said he was willing to sit down with Kim if certain conditions were met. The liberal President, who advocates engagement with the North, must be elated about the outcome of the talks. But he did not forget to reiterate the South's unwavering position that peace can never be settled on the peninsula without the North's denuclearization.

Therefore, the next step following the successful hosting of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics should be to hold talks with the North to discuss how to solve the nuclear crisis. If the Kim regime refuses to do so, it will only prove that its peace overtures were only a disguised campaign aimed at buying time for the completion of its nuclear program. It is up to Kim which path to take _ denuclearization or self-destruction. We hope he makes a wise choice.

(END)

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