After contending with Pyongyang's threats and rhetoric for several weeks, Seoul resolved to give Pyongyang an ultimatum on the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex.
In a statement Thursday, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-seok proposed “formal, working-level talks" between the authorities of both sides to "discuss humanitarian issues affecting South Korean staff" still staying at the industrial park and to "normalize its operations."
He then demanded Pyongyang respond to the offer by Friday morning and said Seoul would take "grave measures" if the offer was rejected.
A senior government official here said, "The statement took the form of an offer of dialogue, but in fact, it gave priority to the expression 'grave measures.' We didn't make the proposal in anticipation of a positive response [from the North]."
The park's operations have been suspended for 23 days since the North blocked access on April 3.
The most likely "grave measure" the government can take is to withdraw all South Korean staff, which could mean the end of any inter-Korean exchange and cooperation. The ministry spokesman did not deny such a possibility.
The South's demands were uncharacteristically strict as they set a one-day response deadline of Friday even given that Thursday was a national holiday in the North -- the anniversary of the regime’s Army.
The government made the offer only through a Unification Ministry statement and not through any other channel, such as by telephone or hand delivery.
The North has yet to make any response to the offer.
There are currently a total of 176 South Koreans at the Kaesong industrial park, including some 50 management and maintenance staff.