South Korea Proposes Feb. 11 for First Meeting With North Since Shelling

South Korea proposed military talks with North Korea for Feb. 11 as Kim Jong Il’s regime renewed calls for unconditional dialogue to ease tensions heightened since its November shelling of a South Korean island.

South Korea sent a notice to North Korea today for the meeting to be held at the border village of Panmunjom, said a defense ministry official who spoke anonymously according to military regulation. The talks are considered “preliminary” and are aimed at working out details for higher-level discussions, South Korea’s government has said.

A meeting would signal easing tension after the South declared North Korea its “enemy” last year following the artillery attack. South Korea’s Unification Ministry said on Jan. 20 it accepted the North’s call for dialogue after the communist nation agreed to discuss the shelling as well as the sinking of a warship in March that killed 46 sailors.

The ministry today called on North Korea to also accept bi- lateral talks on giving up its nuclear weapons program to assure “peace of the Korean peninsula and substantial development of inter-Korean relations.” The two sides last met on Sept. 30 when military officials discussed the ship sinking, which South Korea blames on a torpedo fired by North Korea’s mini-submarine.

Kim’s government today warned against setting terms for negotiations before meeting.

‘Mood for Dialogue’

“We should guard against demands for setting unilateral pre-conditions or an order of different kinds of dialogue,” North Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman said today in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency. “It is important to keep the mood for dialogue alive.”

North Korea remains committed to its 2005 agreement to give up its nuclear weapons program and is willing to refrain from provocative acts, according to the statement.

South Korea’s calls for dialogue follows U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg’s arrival in the country today on a trip that also includes stops in China and Japan. The U.S. and the three Asian nations are all involved in six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear programs.

The disarmament talks, also involving Russia, were last convened in December 2008. North Korea has since detonated a second atomic device in 2009 and revealed in November that it is running a uranium-enrichment program, providing a second means of making nuclear weapons.

International Obligations

“It’s very important that the international community send a strong message that the uranium-enrichment program by North Korea would be inconsistent with its international obligations,” Steinberg said today in Seoul, declining to comment specifically on whether the issue will be discussed at the United Nations Security Council.

Steinberg said North Korea should first rebuild trust with South Korea before engaging in talks with other countries.

North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in 2005 in return for economic assistance from the five other nations in the disarmament talks. The country was put under UN Security Council sanctions after conducting its first nuclear test the following year.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan told reporters yesterday South Korea should first talk to North Korea before the six-party talks can resume. Kim also called for North Korea’s apology for the two attacks “in statements that are acceptable to South Korean people.”

North Korea denies any role in sinking the South Korean warship. North Korea says it shelled South Korea’s Yeonpyeong island near their disputed western sea border to protect its own territory.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bomi Lim in Seoul at blim30@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg in Hong Kong at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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