Unification Minister Seeks Central Role in Ties with N.Korea

      January 08, 2010 10:47

      Unification Minister Hyun In-taek

      Unification Minister Hyun In-taek has said he is always willing to meet the top North Korean official dealing with South Korea to solve any problems between the two sides. In an interview with the Chosun Ilbo on Thursday, Hyun said his ministry "is the official channel for inter-Korean dialogue, so it would be only natural for the two Koreas to go through the communication line between the Unification Ministry and the United Front Department [of North Korea] if they want dialogue."

      In his first interview with a local publication since his inauguration, Hyun was noncommittal when asked about his views about the background and prospects of the recent mood of détente between the two Koreas. But he was unequivocal that the Unification Ministry should "take center stage."

      Asked about the state of inter-Korean relations, he said, "It's not dawn yet, but the day will break soon."  President Lee Myung-bak's call for a standing dialogue channel with the North in his New Year's address Monday, Hyun said, "is an important task to solve in the process of inter-Korean dialogue. I hope that the channel will materialize as soon as possible."

      Turning to rumors that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is secretly visiting China, he said, "Kim has been in China four times in the past -- in 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2006. Three years have passed since the last time, so it seems it's time for him to visit again. Top officials exchanged visits last year, for the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Pyongyang and Beijing, so the conditions are ripe."

      Hyun sought to quell speculation about an impending inter-Korean summit. "All media outlets take a keen interest in an inter-Korean summit. It's true that a summit would provide an important momentum for inter-Korean relations, but the government feels that a summit cannot be an end in itself. But don't misunderstand me: the government is open to a summit," he said.

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