September 03, 2014 09:57
Inter-Korean relations could reach a turning point this month, with joint South Korea-U.S. military drills over and Chuseok or Korean Thanksgiving just around the corner.
North Korean athletes are also taking part in the Incheon Asian Games, which would give rise to a natural mood of détente. The Games open on Sept. 19.
The question is whether Pyongyang will accept Seoul's proposal on Aug. 11 for a second round of high-level talks. Despite more than three weeks of silence, the South still holds out hope that the North will accept.
"The North probably didn't accept the proposal readily because we proposed Aug. 19 for talks, while the joint military drills were still going on," a government official said. "It's possible that the North will put forward a counterproposal around Chuseok."
Back on Aug. 17, Kim Yang-gon, the director of North Korea's United Front Department, complained to New Politics Alliance for Democracy lawmaker Park Jie-won and others who were on a visit to the North that Seoul was proposing another round of the talks even as the drills were getting underway. That suggests the North could have accepted if Seoul had timed it better.
Chung Young-tae at the Korea Institute for National Unification speculated, "There'll be a fierce tug-of-war between the two sides over who will take the initiative in talks."
Seoul's top agenda is resuming reunions of families separated by the Korean War.
The government official said, "It's important to hold family reunions on a regular basis, rather than once in a while merely as one-off events" as candidates for reunions get older.
The North for its part is interested in resuming lucrative package tours to the Mt. Kumgang resort.
But the government says it cannot lift sanctions unless the North takes responsibility for sinking the Navy corvette Cheonan and shelling Yeonpyeong Island in 2010.
Prof. Kim Yong-hyun of Dongguk University said, "The sanctions can't be lifted completely, but it's possible to get around them in some way, for example with humanitarian support for North Korean children."
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