South Korean President Moon Jae-In calls for rare talks with North
Moon's overture marks a shift in Seoul's policy towards a nuclear-ambitious Pyongyang. The South Korean Red Cross would also like to reunite familes kept apart by the frozen conflict.
South Korea's defense ministry called Monday for formal talks with its northern neighbor to be held on July 21 at Tongilgak, a North Korean building in the border town of Panmunjom where prior inter-Korea talks have been held.
"We make the proposal for a meeting... aimed at stopping all hostile activities that escalate military tension along the land border" that is also the Military Demarcation Line between the long-hostile neighbors, the ministry announced in a statement.
The ministry did not explicitly specify what "all hostile activities" includes, and the definition varies between the two Koreas. Typically, Pyongyang would like to end the routine joint military drills undertaken by South Korea and the United States along the border, while Seoul would like the loudspeaker propaganda broadcast by both sides to cease.
North Korea has launched various missile tests over the past few months
At a news briefing, South Korea's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon added that talks could be a way to de-escalate the North Korean nuclear threat that has intensified in the wake of multiple missile tests over the past months. Most recently, Pyongyang claimed to have tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
"Talks and cooperation between the two Koreas to ease tension and bring about peace on the Korean peninsula will be instrumental for pushing forth a mutual, virtuous cycle for inter-Korea relations and North Korea's nuclear problem," Cho said.
When asked whether the South would "be flexible" on its joint military drills with the US, Cho responded that the issue was not one which Seoul had discussed directly yet.
Military and government hotlines should also be restored across the border, Cho added. The North cut communication across the MDL after the South had imposed economic sanctions in response to a northern nuclear test in 2016.
A shifting stance?
The call for dialogue from the newly in-office President Moon marks a change in approach for the South Korean government's stance towards its northern neighbor. Under the preceding government of Park Geun-Hye, Seoul had refused to engage in talks with Pyongyang without the prior cessation of nuclear activities.
Elected in May 2017 with promises of engagement, Moon reiterated his preference at the G20 summit in Hamburg in early July for dialogue with the north despite its "nuclear provocation".
President Moon would like to open formal dialouge with the north
The North Korean government did not immediately respond to Moon's overtures. Ruler Kim Jong-Un has said he will not give up nuclear ambitions until the US ceases its hostility towards Pyongyang.
Family reunification and humanitarian improvement are other goals alongside the de-escalating the nuclear and military conflict between the two Koreas.
On Monday, the South Korean Red Cross also called for separate talks with its northern counterpart to be held on August 1, also in Panmunjom. The humanitarian organization would like to resume work to reunite families that were separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. If such activities pick up again in October as the South Korea's Red Cross hopes, they would be the first to take place in over two years.
North and South Korea have been technically at war since 1950, though an armistice agreement in 1953 ended the fighting, but no truce was signed. Millions of families were separated, often without a chance to contact their relatives who live across the militarized border. All civilian communication is banned across the MDL.
The demarcation line has divided families since the end of the Korea war in 1953
cmb/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)