President Lee Myung-bak in his New Year address Monday called for a standing dialogue channel with North Korea, which could mean the establishment of permanent high-level liaison offices in the two Korean capitals, according to a Cheong Wa Dae official.
The proposal goes back to April 2008, when Lee gave an interview to the Washington Post. The president said then that the offices should be headed by someone who holds a position high enough to personally convey the remarks of top leaders of the two sides. Given the criticism that past inter-Korean meetings between senior officials were mere show, the proposal called for a permanent dialogue channel so that the leaders may exchange views at any time.
But Pyongyang rejected the offer, with the official Rodong Sinmun daily calling it "a shallow idea designed to evade responsibility for deteriorating inter-Korean relations."
A government source said the secret meeting in Singapore in October between Labor Minister Yim Tae-hee and Kim Yang-gon, the director of the North Korea's United Front Department, was arranged by a Korean Chinese businessman dealing with North Korea. This indicates that the two Koreas have had no normal dialogue channel at all, he added.
The National Intelligence Service has abolished its North Korea strategy bureau, which looked after inter-Korean relations under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations. It has therefore become difficult for the heads of state of South and North Korea to exchange views.
"It's not easy to establish diplomatic missions in Seoul and Pyongyang right away," a diplomatic source said. "But it's not impossible if we adopt, for example, the method of the United States, which deals with Cuba by renting an office in the French diplomatic mission in Havana."