S. Korea offers talks on tension, family reunions with North

Seoul’s proposal for two sets of talks indicates President Moon Jae-in is pushing to improve ties with Pyongyang despite the North’s first intercontinental ballistic missile this month. South Korean Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo Suk, right, speaks during a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, July 17, 2017.

The South’s defence ministry proposed a meeting to be held on Friday at the border truce village of Panmunjom, while the Red Cross offered to hold talks on August 1 at the same venue.

The threat from North Korea has already sent sales of underground bunkers soaring in Japan, a USA ally that is already within the range of missiles from Pyongyang.

Moon, who took power in May, has advocated dialogue with the nuclear-armed North as a means of bringing it to the negotiating table and vowed to play a more active role in global efforts to tame the South’s unpredictable neighbour.

South Korea on Monday offered military and Red Cross talks with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to ease military tensions along the inter-Korean border and resume humanitarian exchange between peoples of the two sides. The North recently voiced suspicion over Moon’s North Korea policy, and some conservatives in South Korea worry that his overture might weaken worldwide pressure on North Korea.

If realized, the talks would be the first inter-Korean dialogue since December 2015. The Rodong Sinmun said a “fundamental shift” in policy was needed to reassure North Korea of Moon’s intentions. But his push has reported little progress with the North test-firing a series of newly developed missiles since Moon’s May 10 inauguration. The North cut communication across the MDL after the South had imposed economic sanctions in response to a northern nuclear test in 2016. Ruler Kim Jong-Un has said he would not give up nuclear ambitions until the United States ceases its hostility towards Pyongyang.

Chances for talks on family reunions are slimmer as North Korea has already made it clear that it won’t agree to a fresh reunion program unless Seoul returns some of the North Korean defectors living in the South who it says were abducted by South Korean agents.

“If South and North Korea sit face-to-face, we will be able to have a heart-to-heart discussion over mutual interests”.

If held, it would be the first such meeting between military authorities of the two sides since a working-level meeting that failed to produce an agreement on October 15, 2014, at Panmunjom, according to Yonhap News Agency.