SEOUL, Oct. 20 (Yonhap) — South Korea still hopes for the resumption of high-level talks with North Korea late this month despite sharp military tensions and Pyongyang’s reticence about Seoul’s dialogue offer, an official here said Monday.
The North has not responded to the South’s proposal that another round of vice ministerial talks be held on Oct. 30, according to unification ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol.
“Our government expects the second South-North high-level contact to be held on Oct. 30 as we suggested on Oct. 13,” he said at a press briefing.
He pointed out that the two sides have already agreed to hold the meeting between late October and early November.
Lim’s comments reflect the Park Geun-hye administration’s resolve to press ahead with dialogue with the communist neighbor in spite of its continued provocative acts.
The North’s troops repeatedly approached the border over the weekend, triggering warning shots from the South and exchanges of gunfire.
Pyongyang also threatened to break the deal to hold high-level talks, taking issue with the South’s attitude in their rare military talks last week.
Another unification ministry official said there needs to be a response from the North within this week in order to open the talks on Oct. 30, given the time for preparations.
“We do not rule out the possibility that the North will continue its silence for the time being,” he said.
Experts said the North is apparently seeking to gain the upper hand in its tumultuous ties with the South by ratcheting up pressure on its neighbor.
South Korea wants to focus first on the family reunion issue but North Korea is more interested in re-drawing the Yellow Sea border and stopping the spread of leaflets critical of its leaders and political system.
“It would be difficult to open the second round of high-level contact if the South Korean government maintains its current stance,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Seoul’s Dongguk University.
He said inter-Korean relations are at a critical juncture.
“If the South and the North lose this opportunity for dialogue, it would be hard to create another dialogue phase,” he said.
The unification ministry, meanwhile, reaffirmed that it would not take any forcible measure to block activists from sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.
A group of conservative activists here said it will fly balloons carrying 100,000 leaflets from Imjingak, a park in Paju just south of the border, on Saturday.
“We are instead asking civilian groups to act carefully and wisely in consideration of the safety and security of the people as North Korea’s threats grow,” the ministry spokesman said.
The government will deploy police to Imjingak, if necessary, in case of clashes between activists and local residents, he said.
The North’s state-controlled media has continued to condemn the South for doing nothing to block the leaflets.
“Any smear campaign against the other side is the root cause of the chill in the atmosphere for dialogue and improved relations,” said the Rodong Simmun, an organ of the Workers’ Party of Korea. “Explicitly speaking once again, if the north and the south are to have dialogue and improve relations, it is necessary to remove hurdles lying in the way of them doing so, first of all.”
Source : Yonhap