A top South Korean official yesterday offered to hold high-level talks with North Korea next month, as Pyongyang battles growing pressure over human rights and a cyberrow with the US.
South Korean Minister for Unification Ryoo Kihl-jae said he was willing to meet in Seoul or Pyongyang for the rare high-level talks.
“I hope that the North will show an active response to this offer,” Ryoo said at a news conference.
“We are willing to discuss any issues of mutual concern,” he said, adding that a formal proposal had been sent to his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yang-gon.
Mutual concerns include a reunion of families separated by the 1950 to 1953 Korean War and various events to mark the 70th anniversary of the division of the peninsula in 1945, he said.
“We need dialogue and cooperation to implement such projects... I hope the talks will help ease the pain of the separated families before the Lunar New Year,” he said, referring to the holiday that falls on Feb. 19 this year.
The last round of formal high-level talks was held in February and resulted in the North hosting a rare union of relatives.
The two sides had earlier agreed to restart dialogue when a top-ranking North Korean delegation made a surprise visit to the Asian Games held in the South in October. The unusual trip raised hopes of a thaw, but was followed by a series of minor military clashes along the border that renewed tensions and talks never materialized.
Ties were strained further when the South allowed activists to send anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border via hot air balloons. Seoul rejected Pyongyang’s demand to ban such exercises, saying there is no legal ground to stop free activities by its citizens. Ryoo did not address the issue yesterday, leading some to question if the North will accept his proposal.
However, Hong Hyun-ik, an analyst at the Sejong Institute, said Pyongyang must be “feeling very cornered” by the ongoing cyberwar with the US over the hacking of Sony Pictures last month, which may prompt it to reach out to Seoul to defuse tension.
“[North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un’s New Year address should be closely watched to get a clue on whether the North seeks to improve ties or not,” Hong said.
The isolated nation has suffered a mysterious Internet outage for the past week after Washington vowed retaliation over the crippling cyber attack on Sony, the studio behind the movie The Interview, a comedy about a fictional plot to assassinate Kim that enraged the North, which slammed it as “an act of war.”
Washington blames Pyongyang for launching the attack on Sony. The North denied involvement and accused the US of shutting its major Web sites.
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