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(LEAD) N. Korea issues guarded response to Moon's peace initiative

2017/07/15 13:21

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(ATTN: CHANGES headline, first 3 paras; UPDATES with more info throughout)

SEOUL, July 15 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Saturday issued a guarded response to President Moon Jae-in's latest proposal for cross-border rapprochement, calling it "sophistry" while voicing relief over Seoul's pledge to respect past joint declarations.

In its first reaction to the initiative that Moon announced in Berlin last Thursday, the Rodong Sinmun, the North's main newspaper, made a lengthy point-by-point rebuttal -- rather than a terse rejection -- which a Seoul official said may signal Pyongyang's interest in the proposal.

The newspaper issued its statement in a commentary attributed to the pen name of a private writer, which observers say hints at the reclusive state's efforts to be cautious not to blunt the potential momentum of better inter-Korean ties.

"The overall content, enumerated under the name of peace, carries confrontational intentions to quash its neighbor while relying on foreign forces," the paper said.

"(The initiative) is riddled with sophistries like sleep talking, which only pose hurdles rather than helping improve North-South relations," it added.

During his visit to the German capital to attend the Group of 20 summit, Moon announced the initiative under which Seoul pursues Pyongyang's denuclearization with a security guarantee, and economic and diplomatic incentives, while seeking a peace treaty and dismissing the prospect of forced unification.

In the commentary, the paper noted that it is a "relief" that Moon included his government's vow to respect the landmark joint declarations that were signed at the inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007. The declarations aim to foster cross-border cooperation, exchanges and reconciliation.

"It is a relief that the vow to honor and enforce the June 15 joint declaration in 2000 and the Oct. 4 declaration in 2007 were included (in the initiative) -- a different stance from his (conservative) predecessors," the commentary read.

Touching on Moon's mention of the lessons from the German unification process, the newspaper denounced it as a typical process of unification by absorption.

"That (unification process) also will be a total denial of such declarations," the paper said.

The North's paper also dismissed Moon's call for bilateral dialogue and cooperation, demanding a "fundamental shift in policy and stance."

   While referring to Moon's proposals for the reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War and civil-sector cooperation, the newspaper said that there would not be any nonpolitical exchanges when the fundamental issue of cross-border confrontation remains unmentioned or unresolved.

It also took issue with the fact that the initiative was unveiled on foreign soil.

"It is nonsensical that (the president) enumerated these crucial issues -- which we, Koreans, should lead in resolving -- before foreigners with different skin colors, with whom we don't share the same language," it said.

A Seoul official said that the issues the North rebutted could be part of the agenda for future inter-Korean dialogue.

"If the North is not interested in the Berlin initiative, it would have just rejected it tersely. ... The North's stance indicates its interest in the Moon Jae-in government's policy towards it and the initiative," the official said on the condition of anonymity.

This photo, taken on July 6, 2017, shows South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivering a speech in Berlin over his vision for bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula. (Yonhap) This photo, taken on July 6, 2017, shows South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivering a speech in Berlin over his vision for bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula. (Yonhap)