Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae made the talks proposal on Sunday after six rounds of working-level talks in July ended without the two Koreas reaching an agreement on preconditions for resuming operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the last remaining symbol of South-North rapprochement.
The two sides have made no headway on the crucial issue of safeguards to prevent another work stoppage at the industrial park in the North Korean border town. South Korea has insisted that Pyongyang must give solid guarantees that it will not take steps to close the complex again, while the North rejected such demands and called for the park's immediate resumption. The communist country also warned that its military may take control of the complex if no agreement is reached.
The Ministry of Unification, which handles all inter-Korean relations, said the communist country did not send a message to the South regarding the dialogue offer when contact was made at 9 a.m. via the inter-Korean communications line that runs through the neutral truce village of Panmunjom.
Under normal circumstances, the two Koreas exchange phone calls twice a day -- once at 9 a.m. and then at 4 p.m.
"No reply has been received up till now, and the government's stance is to refrain from determining why the North is remaining silent on the talks proposal," said ministry spokeswoman Park Soo-jin. She added that Seoul is currently awaiting the North's response and does not want to elaborate on the possible deadline and what action it may take down the road.
All operations at Kaesong came to a screeching halt in early April after the North unilaterally pulled its workers from the complex amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The shutdown of Kaesong, which first started churning out products in late 2004, has cost the 123 South Korean companies with factories in the park upwards of 1.05 trillion won (US$933 million).
Related to the lack of response, there is growing speculation in the South that the government will be compelled to take "grave" measures. Policymakers have not elaborated on what actions will be taken, but they may shut off all power and water to the complex, which the South supplies to the park. This can be followed by measures that could lead to the eventual closure of the park.
Reflecting the calls by companies to assist in selling their finished goods and production-related materials brought out from Kaesong last month, the ministry said a task force has been set up to come up with the best way to achieve that aim.
South Korean companies with factories in Kaesong had brought back products from July 11-19 after being barred access to their factories for three months, but they have had trouble selling these "out of season" materials on the market.
The spokeswoman added that a special counseling center will start work on Friday at the ministry to listen to grievances and formulate policies accordingly. Many companies have asked for advice on how best to cope with the work stoppage.
The official, meanwhile, said the South-North Korea Exchange and Cooperation Council is reviewing insurance claims made by many Kaesong companies.
"This process of checking documents and claims will be carried out until Monday, and once completed, the council can move past a resolution so insurance money can be paid to companies," she said.
The spokeswoman also said that exactly how the council will decide on the payments issue cannot be determined at present. A maximum of 270 billion won can be paid to companies who have taken out insurance policies in the past.
Once companies receive their insurance payments, ownership of the factories will be taken over by the state-run Export-Import Bank of Korea.