In an inaugural address, Ryoo Kihl-jae stressed inter-Korean talks are needed down the line even if current developments are very grave.
The North tested its third nuclear device on Feb. 12, in defiance of warnings issued by the UN Security Council (UNSC). The global body responded by expanding sanctions against the North, which Pyongyang views as a declaration of war. The isolationist country also threatened to nullify all non-aggression pacts reached between Seoul and Pyongyang in the past, and said the Korean War (1950-53) cease-fire agreement in now null and void. The measures also coincide with the start of the joint South Korea-U.S. Key Resolve military exercise.
The 54-year-old former University of North Korean Studies professor said it is imperative for both the South and the North to respect the other side if trust is to be built.
"Holding talks is critical, and it is vitally important that both Koreas respect and adhere to past agreements such as the July 4th North-South Joint Statement signed in 1972, the June 15 Joint Declaration reached in 2000, and the Oct. 4 joint declaration agreed to in 2007," he said.
The policymaker then said that depending on future developments South Korea can examine ways to offer humanitarian support to the North, although for the time being, emphasis must be placed on strengthening the country's defense against possible provocations.
"It is hard to discuss other matters when the North is making military threats," he pointed out, although elaborating that support for babies and socially disadvantaged people in the North can be moved forward independent of political developments. He did not elaborate on when such support would be offered.
He added that in the future, the North should also actively try to respond to humanitarian requests made by the South in such areas as allowing family reunions of family members separated by the Korean War (1950-53), releasing people kidnapped by the North and repatriation of South Korean prisoners of war.
Ryoo, meanwhile, said confidence building should become the foundation for normalizing South-North relations.
"Only if there is trust can meaningful exchange and cooperation take place," he stressed.
The minister then empathized that Seoul will not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea and the current escalation of tensions poses grave risks to the survival of the Korean people. He said the North should make the right choices in the future so as not to worsen the situation.