South Korea seeks more family reunions, lower military tensions ahead of possible summit with North

South Korean President Moon Jae In (right) talks with the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong (centre), and Kim Yong Nam, president of North Korea's Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, after attending a concert.
South Korean President Moon Jae In (right) talks with the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong (centre), and Kim Yong Nam, president of North Korea's Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, after attending a concert.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea said on Monday (Feb 12) it will try to arrange more reunions for families divided by the Korean War and seek to lower military tensions with North Korea as the first steps towards establishing grounds for a rare summit between the two Koreas.

The statement from the Ministry of Unification came after a high-level North Korean delegation concluded a three-day visit which included an invitation for South Korean President Moon Jae In to travel to Pyongyang for talks.

"(The visit) shows that North Korea has a strong will to improve inter-Korean relations and that Pyongyang can make unprecedented and bold measures if deemed necessary," the ministry said.

The visit of the delegation, which included North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's younger sister Kim Yo Jong, intrigued many in South Korea, but also met scepticism about the North's sincerity and willingness to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

"Although many Koreans are welcoming North Korea's participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are also significant criticism and concerns both domestically and internationally," the statement said.

During the visit, Kim Yo Jong had delivered a letter from her brother asking South Korean President Moon Jae In to visit Pyongyang at his earliest convenience. Moon had replied, "Let's create the environment for that to be able to happen," according to the presidential Blue House.

Such a meeting, if it came about, would mark the first inter-Korea summit since 2007.

 
 

The two Koreas are still technically at war after the 1950-53 conflict on the Korean peninsula ended in a ceasefire and not a truce.

The Unification Ministry said steps regarding the improvement of ties would be led by the two Koreas, but also in cooperation with related countries and the support of the international community.

"Under a strong position for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, Korea will faithfully implement the international sanctions on North Korea, while also adhering to the principle of resolution through peaceful means," the statement said.

"If there is certain progress to set the conditions for denuclearisation, a full-fledged progress in inter-Korean relations will become possible," it said, without elaborating.

The United States and South Korea have agreed on terms for further diplomatic engagement with North Korea, first with Seoul and then possibly leading to direct talks with Washington without pre-conditions, Vice-President Mike Pence said in a newspaper interview published on Sunday.

 

Speaking to the Washington Post aboard Air Force Two on his way home from the Winter Olympics in South Korea, Pence said Washington would keep up its "maximum pressure campaign" against Pyongyang but would be open to possible talks at the same time.

In previous years, North and South Korea have held reunions to bring together family members who have been separated by the war.

Seoul made a standing offer to North Korea last year regarding another such reunion, details of which have yet to be hammered out between North and South Korea.

Kim Yo Jong and her delegation spent three days dining with top government officials, including Moon, watching the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and cheering for the united women's ice hockey team the two Koreas have fielded at this Olympics.