Seoul Must Go Prudently into Inter-Korean Talks

      June 07, 2013 13:54

      North Korea on Thursday proposed talks with South Korea to "normalize" the closed-down Kaesong Industrial Complex and resume tours to the scenic Mt. Kumgang resort. The offer marks the impending anniversary of the June 15, 2000 Joint Declaration. Seoul accepted, suggesting ministers from the two sides meet in Seoul next week. This would be the first ministerial talks since June 2007.

      The North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said it had been "entrusted" with the proposal, suggesting that leader Kim Jong-un was behind it. It also wants to discuss reunion of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War and celebration to mark the first cross-border summit in 2000.

      In a characteristic pattern, North Korea first sought to overcome international pressure by ratcheting up tensions on the peninsula with its third nuclear test in February. But that backfired and led to no concessions. On the contrary, unusually vehement protests came from China, North Korea's sole ally, and they probably played a huge role in the decision to propose talks with the South now.

      The talks proposal came just a day before the leaders of the U.S. and China sit down for a summit. Pyongyang probably wants to prevent China from joining the U.S. in condemning it and is afraid of even further isolation after the China-South Korea summit at the end of this month.

      Park said Thursday she hopes her proposal to build trust between the two Koreas would lead to "constructive developments." Her trust-building program envisages reciprocal measures from South Korea if the North moves to scrap its nuclear weapons program.

      Pyongyang will have been watching the Park administration's responses to its provocations over the last three months and concluded that Seoul would stick by the quid-pro-quo approach of the former Lee Myung-bak administration in this kind of climate. It must realize once and for all that Park's program holds out rewards but that no carrots can be offered unless Pyongyang takes concrete steps first.

      North Korea probably still thinks that talks with South Korea are just technicalities that need to be dealt with to get the chance to talk directly with the U.S. But even then the talks are necessary to re-establish the inter-Korean communication lines and re-open the Kaesong complex, which would promote peace on the peninsula. 

      The Mt. Kumgang tours are another matter: they can only resume if the North apologizes for shooting killing a South Korean tourist there who had strayed off-limits and offer assurances that this will never happen again. It is also unclear why North Korea wants to co-host events marking the June 15, 2000 summit.

      The biggest item on the inter-Korean agenda is the North Korean nuclear threat. Without progress there, any joint venture would be meaningless and Seoul would end up getting tricked by the North's tactics once again. North Korea will continue to display its trademark stubbornness, but steadfast and consistent South Korean policies will prevail in the end.

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