North Korea on Friday urged a skeptical South Korea to respond to a recent series of trust-building gestures and again urged Seoul to cancel upcoming military drills with the US.
The apparent olive branch came in the form of an open letter sent to South Korean authorities by the North’s top military body on the orders of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un proffering “reconciliation and unity.”
Published by the North’s KCNA news agency, the letter built on a series of confidence-building proposals that South Korea has already dismissed as a “deceptive” propaganda exercise.
“What is important for paving a wide avenue for mending North-South relations is to make a bold decision to stop all hostile military acts, the biggest hurdle stoking distrust and confrontation,” the letter from the North Korean National Defense Commission (NDC) said.
Later in the day, the North made a fresh proposal for the resumption of reunions for families separated since the Korean War, saying this could provide fresh momentum to improving cross-border ties.
The North suggested the South could choose a date for a family reunion event “at its convenience” after the Lunar New Year on Friday.
The South welcomed the new offer saying it would send its own proposal later for the date and other details on family reunions.
However, Seoul has reacted more cautiously to the other reconciliatory steps offered by Pyongyang.
A week earlier, the NDC had sent several proposals, urging South Korea to cancel the joint exercises with the US and offering a mutual moratorium on mud-slinging by the two rivals.
Seoul not only dismissed the overtures, but warned that Pyongyang may well be laying the ground for a military confrontation.
“Regretfully, the South Korean authorities still remain unchanged in their improper attitude and negative stand,” the NDC letter said.
Reacting to the letter, the South Korean Defense Ministry warned of the “enemy’s hidden motive,” while South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said the North’s stance was “full of inconsistencies.”
Temperatures on the Korean Peninsula traditionally rise ahead of the annual South Korean-US drills, which Pyongyang routinely condemns as a rehearsal for invasion.
Last year they coincided with an unusually sharp and protracted surge in tensions, which saw the North threatening pre-emptive nuclear strikes, and nuclear-capable US stealth bombers flying practice runs over the peninsula.
In its letter, the NDC stressed that its opposition lay solely in the participation of US forces in the exercises.
North Korea did not urge Seoul to stop ordinary military drills, but wanted it to halt joint drills with the US “for a war of aggression,” it said.
The NDC said it had also taken the “unilateral” step of halting all cross-border “slandering,” despite the South’s dismissive response to its proposal a week ago.
The South’s Unification Ministry had scoffed at the idea, arguing that the only “slander” was propagated by Pyongyang’s propaganda machine.
In a rare press conference at the UN headquarters in New York on Friday, North Korea’s UN Ambassador Sin Son-ho condemned the drills while reiterating calls to end provocation.
The envoy also suggested the planned war games should be moved to the US.
“If the coordination and cooperation with the US are so precious and valuable, they had better hold the exercises in the secluded area or in the US, far away from the territorial land, sea and air of the Korean Peninsula,” he said.