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(LEAD) N. Korea shows no reaction to S. Korea's offer for talks

2018/01/03 11:49

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(ATTN: CLARIFIES lead; ADDS more info throughout)

SEOUL, Jan. 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has yet to respond to South Korea's latest offer for high-level talks Wednesday, Seoul officials said, after its leader Kim Jong-un extended a rare rapprochement toward Seoul.

South Korea proposed Tuesday holding inter-Korean talks a week later at the shared border village of Panmunjom to discuss the North's potential participation in the PyeongChang Olympic Games and ways to improve their ties.

A South Korean liaison official attempted to contact the North through a hotline installed at the truce village, but there was no response for the second straight day, according to Seoul's unification ministry.

The North cut off two inter-Korean communication channels, including a military hotline, in February 2016 in protest of Seoul's shutdown of a joint industrial complex.

Technically speaking, the hotlines are not physically severed, but the dialogue channel is not operating as North Korea has not responded to South Korean officials' daily contact over the phone.

On New Year's Day, North Korean leader Kim said that his country is willing to send a delegation to the Olympics to be held in the South and is open to inter-Korean talks over the matter.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute, said that the North may not be able to accept the date proposed by the South, given that Kim Jong-un's birthday falls on Monday.

The North usually focuses on holding public rallies or events to show its people's support for Kim's New Year message.

"On top of its internal schedule, the North apparently needs time to set strategy and details that it wants to go over before the talks. It is likely to propose a different date to Seoul," he said.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon expressed hopes Tuesday that the North could positively reply after restoring the communication channel.

In contrast to his overture to Seoul, the North's ruler made it clear that he has no intent to give up the nuclear and missile programs, warning the U.S. that a "nuclear button" is placed on his desk.

In response to Kim's speech, the U.S. State Department showed little enthusiasm for the talks, expressing skepticism about Kim's sincerity in sitting down for dialogue.

"The government will pump up efforts to make inter-Korean cooperation lead to U.S.-North Korea contact and talks for denuclearization," Baik Tae-hyun, ministry spokesman, said in a press briefing.

The talks could face a hurdle if Pyongyang attaches the suspension of Seoul-Washington's military drills and the halt to the U.S. regular deployment of strategic assets around the peninsula as preconditions for dialogue.

"There is a sufficient possibility of North Korea demanding different treatment as it is arguing (that it is now a nuclear power)," Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said Tuesday, adding that the talks, if opened, could be daunting.

This file photo shows an inter-Korean communication hotline installed at the liaison office at the shared border village of Panmunjom. (Yonhap) This file photo shows an inter-Korean communication hotline installed at the liaison office at the shared border village of Panmunjom. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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