No military talks after N. Korea snubs Seoul's call

North's silence is blow to South's pro-dialogue President

SEOUL • South Korea's proposed military talks aimed at easing tension between the two Koreas failed to happen after the North snubbed the call, in a setback for new President Moon Jae In's hopes for dialogue.

The North has remained silent on the South Korean proposal, made on Monday, for talks yesterday to discuss ways to avoid hostilities along their heavily fortified border.

The South's Red Cross also suggested a meeting on Aug 1 to discuss potential reunions for millions of families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Mr Moon took office in May pledging to engage the North in dialogue, as well as to bring pressure on it to impede its nuclear and missile programmes.

The proposal for talks came after the North said it conducted its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4 and that it had mastered the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on it.

South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang Gyun told a briefing the military talks were practically impossible as the North had not responded.

"It is an urgently needed task, for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, to restore dialogue in the military area and to ease military tension between the South and the North," he said.

He added that the proposal for talks still stood and he urged the North to respond.

Monday's twin proposals are the first concrete steps towards rapprochement with the North since South Korea elected dovish President Moon in May.

His conservative predecessor Park Geun Hye had refused to engage in substantive dialogue with Pyongyang unless it made a firm commitment to denuclearisation.

The North has conducted its fourth and fifth nuclear tests and a quick succession of missile-related activities since the beginning of last year, after leader Kim Jong Un had pledged to improve ties with the South in a New Year address.

Official military talks with the South would have been the first of its kind since December 2015. The North has also remained silent on the offer by the Red Cross to meet.

A senior North Korean official told Agence France-Presse last month that Pyongyang would rule out any more family reunions unless Seoul returns a group of North Koreans who defected to the South last year.

Meanwhile, the United States will bar Americans from travelling to North Korea in the coming weeks, travel agencies said yesterday, a month after US student Otto Warmbier died following his imprisonment by Pyongyang.

China-based Young Pioneer Tours, which had taken Mr Warmbier to North Korea, and Koryo Tours said the ban will come into force on July 27 with a 30-day grace period.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2017, with the headline 'No military talks after N. Korea snubs Seoul's call'. Print Edition | Subscribe