September 15, 2010 11:24
The government will wait to see how North Korea responds to a proposal to hold reunions of families separated by the Korean War on a regular basis before it decides how to proceed in inter-Korean relations and whether to support a resumption of six-party nuclear talks.
The Red Cross societies of both Koreas meet in Kaesong on Friday to discuss the reunions.
A senior government official said it is too soon to attach anything other than humanitarian significance to ongoing inter-Korean discussions about rice aid for North Korean flood victims and reunions of separated families on Chuseok or Korean Thanksgiving, "but the situation will change if the North accepts our offer to hold family reunions regularly."
Government officials apparently told Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, on Monday that if the North accepts the proposal for regular family reunions, this can have positive effects on the resumption of the six-party talks.
Seoul and Washington agree that if the six-party talks are to resume, the North has to change its attitude and take fresh, meaningful actions to improve inter-Korean relations.
The North already proposed family reunions on Chuseok, but at the moment, Seoul seems to regard the proposal merely as a one-off.
The senior official said if the family reunions were held on a regular basis, it would mean that South and North Korea have to work together to establish a proper mechanism, so whether the North accepts the proposal "will serve as a yardstick to determine how sincere the North is."
The two Koreas have previously discussed the idea but failed to reach agreement.
Vice Unification Minister Uhm Jong-sik said this will be the focus of Red Cross talks on Friday.
Of about 120,000 people who have applied for the reunions, 80,000 are on a waiting list while 40,000 have already died. Some 66,000 are 70 years or older. Even if 1,000 people from each side met their families every year, it would take 66 years for all of them to get a chance.
Seoul is also going to propose that the two sides drastically increase the numbers for each reunion and reopen a center that has already been built at the Mt. Kumgang resort. Currently, only about 200 people are included in each event.
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