Seoul on Wednesday blasted Pyongyang for its apparent threats to thwart their agreement to hold the reunions of families separated by the border, reiterating that the humanitarian issue should be insulated from political and military factors.
The communist regime renewed the threat on Tuesday as it criticized President Park Geun-hye’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly that increased pressure on it to abandon its nuclear ambitions and take a path toward economic development and regional peace.
“It is deeply regrettable that North Korea unilaterally distorted and criticized the president’s U.N. speech, and said that the efforts to hold family reunions were precarious,” Jeong Joon-hee, the spokesperson of Seoul’s Unification Ministry, said during a regular press briefing.
“We urge the North to immediately halt its unilateral claims, criticism and threats, and to conscientiously execute the Aug. 25 agreement,” he added, referring to the breakthrough deal that brought the two Koreas from the brink of an armed confrontation.
Part of the deal was to hold the family reunions, which are slated to take place from Oct. 20-26 at Mount Geumgangsan on the North’s east coast.
Over the past week, the North has indicated the possibility of the efforts to hold the reunions falling apart, as it responded angrily to South Korea’s moves to enact a North Korea human rights act and its civic groups’ cross-border dissemination of anti-Pyongyang leaflets.
Pyongyang’s anger was vented again this week after Park mentioned the national reunification as an effective solution to address a series of North Korean problems including its nuclear development, human rights abuses and persistent provocations.
The reclusive regime has so far dismissed Seoul’s efforts to lay the foundation for reunification as an ill-intended political attempt at inducing its collapse and absorbing the North into the South’s democratic system.
“Park laid bare her ambitions to realize the national reunification by absorbing the North into the South with the backing of foreign forces,” the spokesperson of the North’s Committee for Peaceful Unification of the Fatherland said in a statement on Tuesday.
“(The efforts for) reunions of separated families are precarious.”
Undeterred by Pyongyang’s rhetoric, Cheong Wa Dae vowed to step up efforts to secure international support for its unification policy and endeavors to stop the North’s provocations and nuclear development.
“(At the U.N. General Assembly) Park has enunciated her will to sever the vicious cycle of North Korea’s provocations and then rewards,” Ju Chul-ki, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs, told reporters while explaining the outcome of Park’s attendance at the U.N. Assembly.
“To this end, we will respond sternly to provocations, based on our principles, while leaving open the door for dialogue.”
Amid the growing inter-Korean tensions, the efforts to set up cross-border talks — as part of the Aug. 25 agreement — have made little progress.
Seoul officials think that the talks were unlikely to happen before Oct. 10, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, although the two sides have agreed to hold the talks at an early date to improve inter-Korean relations.
The North has been busy preparing for the anniversary celebrations, while the South has remained cautious about its proposal for the talks amid the growing concerns that the North would set off provocations such as a long-range rocket launch and a nuclear test around Oct. 10.
To prevent the North’s provocations, Seoul has been stepping up its diplomacy through bilateral and multilateral high-level talks.
After the trilateral meeting among the foreign ministers of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan in New York on Tuesday, the top diplomats warned that the North would face stronger international sanctions should it launch additional provocations.
Seoul officials said that South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida agreed to make a “strong” response should the North engage in provocative acts.
Yun and Kishida were to hold a separate bilateral meeting on Wednesday to further discuss their joint efforts to deter the North’s provocations, and other bilateral issues.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com)
The Korea Herald