North Korea proposed holding talks on two issues South Korea has been seeking to resolve for years, after it failed to win the South’s agreement to reopen a factory park that has been a source of hard currency.
The North suggested two separate sets of working-level discussions next week, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung Suk told reporters yesterday in Seoul. Those talks would cover resuming South Korean tours to the Mount Geumgang resort in North Korea and arranging a reunion for families divided by the Korean War to coincide with September holidays.
The South declined the North’s call to discuss a resumption of tours on July 17 because it’s more “desirable” to focus on continuing negotiations on reviving another inter-Korean economic project, the Gaeseong industrial park, Kim said. South Korea agreed to talk about reunions on July 19, although it suggested holding the meeting at the Panmunjom border village and not in North Korea, he said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has seen his isolation intensify after his biggest backer, China, joined the U.S. and South Korea in condemning his nuclear ambitions. He has toned down his rhetoric in recent weeks since withdrawing his workers from Gaeseong in April. That move, meant to protest tightened United Nations sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program and U.S.-South Korean military drills, followed threats of atomic strikes and denied Kim’s regime hard currency.
The North made the proposals this afternoon through a border hotline, while officials from the two sides were at the Gaeseong complex to reach a deal reversing its April closure. The only outcome of yesterday’s seven-hour meeting was to meet again on July 15.
South Korean President Park Geun Hye’s government has remained firm in its stance to not engage the North until it gives up its nuclear weapons. She has excluded discussions on inter-Korean economic projects and humanitarian issues from her refusal to talk to the North ahead of its denuclearization.
Park was elected last year as the country’s first female leader partly on her pledge to improve ties with the North through a “trust-building” process. She has said a nuclear-armed North Korea is “unacceptable,” while issues of humanitarian aid remain independent of politics and bilateral trust can be developed through “exchange and cooperation.”
Park aims to alter the approach of her predecessor, Lee Myung Bak, who abandoned previous administrations’ “Sunshine Policy” of engagement, during which the Gaeseong complex and the Mount Geumgang resort came into being.
The “Diamond Mountain” resort at Mount Geumgang, opened in 1998 by the two Koreas as a symbol of hope for reunification, has been closed since 2008, when North Korean troops shot and killed a South Korean guest walking on a restricted beach.
The last reunion for families divided during the 1950-1953 Korean War was in 2010.