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(News Focus) Seeking talks, S. Korea tests Kim Jong-un's appetite for warming ties

2017/07/17 14:46

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By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, July 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's offer of military and family reunion talks with North Korea on Monday reflects President Moon Jae-in's resolve to draw a line between sanctions on Pyongyang and efforts to improve bilateral ties.

It's also seen as a litmus test of whether the Kim Jong-un regime is interested in changing the course of belligerence.

Moon, the South's first liberal leader in a decade, believes dialogue should be used to help build trust, as stated in his Berlin address early this month.

He laid out a vision for denuclearizing the peninsula and bringing permanent peace to it through dialogue and tension-easing measures.

Moon was emboldened by U.S. President Donald Trump's support for Seoul to take the initiative in dealing with Korea issues. But Moon's push was overshadowed by the North's July 4 launch of an apparent intercontinental ballistic missile.

The U.N. Security Council is working on a new resolution to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang for the latest missile firing.

Moon's point man on the North sought to assure the communist state of the South's sincerity and seriousness behind Monday's proposal.

South Korea's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon urges North Korea to accept the government's dialogue offer on July 17, 2017. (Yonhap) South Korea's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon urges North Korea to accept the government's dialogue offer on July 17, 2017. (Yonhap)

"South Korea has no hostile policy toward North Korea as (the president) clearly stated in his Berlin doctrine that he will never pursue the collapse of North Korea and an absorption-based reunification," Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said in a statement.

It came hours after the Ministry of National Defense proposed holding military talks with the North on Friday to reduce tensions, and the (South) Korea Red Cross suggested an Aug. 1 meeting with its northern counterpart aimed at arranging an event for separated families to get reunited briefly.

It represented the Moon administration's first formal offer of inter-Korean talks.

Through the olive branch to follow up on Moon's peace overture, the South hopes to lay the groundwork for easing tension and opening additional dialogue intended to persuade it to suspend provocations, freeze its weapons of mass destruction program and expand inter-Korean economic cooperation.

North Korea experts say the North is likely to agree to reopen military talks.

"Kim Jong-un directly mentioned (the need for) inter-Korean military talks in the 7th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea held last year, the first of its kind in 36 years," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. "There will be a response from North Korea."

   Seoul expects to achieve another goal -- restoring direct communication channels with the North, all of which have been severed since the shutdown of a joint industrial complex in Kaesong early last year.

The defense ministry and the Red Cross asked Pyongyang to reply to the suggestion through the military hotline in the western region and the liaison office at Panmunjom, a truce village inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

The unification minister also urged the North to reconnect the communication lines at an early date.

The North has often used its state media to deliver its position on key issues. The method of the North's response this time remains to be seen.

Some say the outcome of military dialogue, even if it progresses, will be limited at a time when the North is demanding a halt to regular combined defense drills between the South and the United States, and sticking to its nuclear and missile programs as a means for survival, rather than a bargaining chip.

Moon's two-track approach also raises concerns that Seoul's possible resumption of joint ventures with Pyongyang will undermine the U.N.-led sanctions on it.

The North has traditionally tried to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington, observers pointed out.

lcd@yna.co.kr

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