South Korea’s ruling conservative party’s presidential candidate has hinted she would soften Seoul’s stance towards Pyongyang and consider a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
In an interview published on Friday in the Dong-a Ilbo daily, Park Geun-Hye, who currently leads opinion polls for December’s election, spoke of reviving inter-Korean accords signed by the South’s former liberal government.
Her remarks mark a shift from the approach of outgoing President Lee Myung-Bak who has taken a hard line with Pyongyang, shelving the accords, citing a lack of progress in talks on the North’s nuclear programme.
“We must shift away from this icy situation and move into a phase of dialogue,” said Park, who won the presidential nomination of her New Frontier Party last month.
If elected, she said her administration would be willing to discuss implementation of a 2007 agreement on economic projects with the North, including joint fishing zones around the disputed sea border in the Yellow Sea.
“Some details of the agreement would be able to be re-adjusted without undermining its basic framework, in case the agreements would incur huge costs and thus require parliamentary approvals,” she said.
Park also responded positively when asked if she would be willing to hold talks with North Korea’s new young leader.
“I think I would be able to meet him. I am willing to meet anyone if it is helpful for improving inter-Korean relations,” said Park, who visited Pyongyang in 2002 for talks with then leader Kim Jong-Il.
Moon Jae-In, the likely presidential candidate from South Korea’s main opposition party, has also indicated he would push for a summit with North Korea next year if he wins the poll.
The two Koreas held their first summit in 2000 and signed a landmark agreement on reconciliation and exchanges.
They held a second summit in 2007, vowing to pursue a nuclear-free peninsula, a permanent peace pact and joint economic projects.
President Lee Myung-Bak, who took office in 2008, ended the policy of aid and engagement, linking future progress to the North’s nuclear disarmament - a stance that enraged Pyongyang.