South Korea proposes resuming talks with the North
In aftermath of Sony cyberattack, overture to Pyongyang calls for negotiations over family reunions and projects of mutual interest
South Korea has proposed to resume stalled talks with North Korea, an overture that comes amid heightened diplomatic tension after Seoul's key ally the United States blamed the North for a cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.
North Korea has denied responsibility for the hack against the US-based film studio arm of Japan's Sony, which distributed a comedy film featuring an assassination plot against the North's leader, Kim Jong-un.
Pyongyang subsequently blamed Washington for its own internet outages and has denied any involvement in recent system breaches into South Korea's state nuclear power operator.
Seoul's unification minister said the South had sent a letter to Pyongyang seeking negotiations, which it hopes to hold in January and would cover issues including reunions for families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean war and possible cooperation projects.
The North had accepted the letter but had yet to respond, South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said during a news briefing yesterday. "I don't think we will have any particular agenda, but our position is to discuss everything that South and North have mutual interests in," said Ryoo, noting that 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of Korea's independence from Japan.
He added that talks could be held in Seoul, Pyongyang or other places convenient for both sides.
A delegation of high-level North Korean officials made a surprise visit in October to the closing ceremony of the Asian Games hosted by the South and promised to reopen dialogue between the two. However, the two sides failed to hold follow-up talks as tension persisted, with the North lashing out at the South over anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets sent to the North via balloon by activist groups.
Military officials from North and South Korea met in October to discuss border altercations, including exchanges of fire, but they did not resolve differences.
South Korea imposed a broad set of sanctions on Pyongyang in 2010 following the sinking of a South Korean corvette that killed 46 sailors. South Korea blamed the North, while Pyongyang denied it was responsible, and the issue has been an obstacle to re-engagement ever since.
Ryoo said South Korea would explain to the North its inter-Korean cooperation plans, including a peace park at the demilitarised zone, adding that it was seeking a fresh round of reunions for families separated by the Korean war before the Lunar New Year holidays in February.
"What the North wants from the South is some kind of assurance... to stop the leaflets so I am not sure if the North would embrace the offer easily," said Hong Hyun-ik, an analyst at Sejong Institute think tank.
"Kim Jong-un's New Year address should be closely watched to get a clue on whether the North seeks to improve ties or not," Hong said.
Washington blames Pyongyang for launching the attack on Sony. The North denied involvement and accused the US of shutting its major internet websites.
At the same time, South Korea saw some of its nuclear reactors hit by a string of cyberattacks that led to the leak of information including operation manuals and reactor designs.
Seoul's justice minister said last week investigators were looking into potential involvement by the North in the attack.
The North also faces growing pressure to improve its dismal human rights record as the UN steps up a campaign to refer Pyongyang to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.