South Korea offers to hold rare talks with North

People cycling yesterday near Paju, north of Seoul, along the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, at an event to promote inter-Korea peace. Seoul has proposed a meeting to be held on Friday.
People cycling yesterday near Paju, north of Seoul, along the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, at an event to promote inter-Korea peace. Seoul has proposed a meeting to be held on Friday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

It seeks to defuse tensions after ICBM test, in first such move under Moon

SEOUL • South Korea yesterday offered to hold rare military talks with North Korea, aiming to ease tensions after Pyongyang tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

The offer of talks, the first since South Korea elected President Moon Jae In, came as the Red Cross in Seoul proposed a separate meeting to discuss reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

The South's Defence Ministry proposed a meeting to be held on Friday at the border truce village of Panmunjom, while the Red Cross offered to hold talks on Aug 1 at the same venue.

If the government meeting goes ahead, it will mark the first official inter-Korea talks since December 2015. Mr Moon's predecessor Park Geun Hye had refused to engage in substantive dialogue with Pyongyang unless it made a firm commitment to denuclearisation.

"We make the proposal for a meeting... aimed at stopping all hostile activities that escalate military tension along the land border," the Defence Ministry said.

The Red Cross said it hoped for "a positive response" from its counterpart in the North in hopes of holding family reunions in early October. If realised, they would be the first for two years, said AFP.

Millions of family members were separated by the conflict that sealed the division of the two countries. Many died without getting a chance to see or hear from their families on the other side of the heavily-fortified border, across which all civilian communication is banned.

BID FOR PEACE

We make the proposal for a meeting... aimed at stopping all hostile activities that escalate military tension along the land border.

SOUTH KOREA'S DEFENCE MINISTRY, which has proposed a meeting with North Korean officials at the border truce village of Panmunjom.

"North Korea should respond to our sincere proposals if it really seeks peace on the Korean Peninsula," Seoul's Unification Minister in charge of North Korea affairs Cho Myoung Gyon said.

He stressed that Seoul "would not seek the collapse of the North or unification through absorbing the North", and urged Pyongyang to restore cross-border communication channels, including a shuttered military hotline, AFP said.

Mr Moon, who took power in May, has advocated dialogue with the nuclear-armed North to bring it to the negotiating table, and vowed to play a more active role in global efforts to tame the South's unpredictable neighbour.

But Pyongyang has staged a series of missile launches in violation of United Nations resolutions - most recently on July 4, when it test-fired its first ICBM, a move which triggered global alarm and a push by United States President Donald Trump to impose harsher UN sanctions.

China's Foreign Ministry yesterday welcomed Seoul's peace gesture, saying it hopes "the two sides will move in a positive direction to break the stalemate and to relaunch the dialogue and negotiations", according to AFP.

China is reluctant to pressure the North too far for fear of regime collapse. It is worried about an influx of refugees and possible US troops stationed on its border in a unified Korea.

Meanwhile, Japan said in a draft White Paper on defence for this year that the threat from North Korea is rising to a new level, as the country makes headway in its missile and nuclear programme, the Nikkei Asian Review reported.

Citing the draft White Paper, to be finalised early next month, the Nikkei said the Japanese government has concluded that Pyongyang's ballistic missile programme has achieved four attributes: Longer ranges, more varied launch methods, a more sophisticated so-called saturation attack and continued secrecy.

WATCH THE VIDEO

South Korea proposes talks with Pyongyang. str.sg/4RyC

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2017, with the headline 'South Korea offers to hold rare talks with North'. Print Edition | Subscribe