Moon sets peace initiatives in motion
By Kim Rahn
The Ministry of National Defense said Monday the government proposed that the two Koreas hold military talks on reducing tension along the border July 21 at Tongilgak, a North Korean building in the truce village of Panmunjeom.The Moon Jae-in government has made an official offer for dialogue to North Korea, including inter-Korean military talks and resuming reunions of separated families, as a follow-up measure to the peace overture he proposed in his recent speech in Berlin.
“We are requesting Pyongyang to respond to the offer through the disabled inter-Korean military communication line in the western region after restoring it,” said Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo-suk.
“In the July 6 speech, the President proposed the two Koreas halt all acts of hostility near the Military Demarcation Line starting July 27, the 64th anniversary of the armistice. This offer is a follow-up measure to his proposal,” Suh said.
Regarding the scope of the “acts of hostility,” Suh said the government is not specifying this for now but will do so after reviewing Pyongyang’s response. “We’ll have a comprehensive discussion on the acts,” he noted.
If held, this will be the first dialogue between the military authorities of the two Koreas in 33 months since Oct. 15, 2014, when the two sides failed to reach an agreement on reducing military tension, with Pyongyang blaming Seoul for the failure.
The chances of the North accepting the offer seem relatively high, as Pyongyang has also made similar proposals for dialogue to reduce military tension along the border.
In a commentary in its official mouthpiece, the Rodong Sinmun, North Korea said Saturday the first step for the two Koreas to take is to address military confrontation. Pyongyang earlier offered military talks in May last year, but the Park Geun-hye administration turned this down and called for Pyongyang’s denuclearization first.
In the talks, if held, the two Koreas may discuss suspending loudspeaker-based propaganda broadcasts and preventing South Korean activists from sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets into the North via balloons.
But it is also possible that North Korea will demand the suspension of larger-scale activities, such as the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises and the deployment of U.S. strategic weapons to the Korean Peninsula; something Seoul may be unable to accept.
The ministry’s offer is also aimed at restoring the military communication line in the western region, which North Korea unilaterally cut in February last year to protest South Korea’s halt of operations at the Gaeseong Industrial Complex.
“As all communication lines have been cut, we could not make the offer for talks to Pyongyang directly but had to announce it through the South Korean media,” ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said.
Aug. 1 family reunion talks
Separately, the Korean Red Cross also proposed talks at the Peace House, a South Korean building in Panmunjeom, to be held Aug. 1, to discuss humanitarian issues including the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
The offer is also among Moon’s proposals in his speech in which he suggested a reunion event on Oct. 4, which is the Chuseok holiday and also marks the 10th anniversary of the Oct. 4 Declaration made in the inter-Korean summit in 2007 in which the two Koreas agreed to work for a better relationship and peace.
If the reunion event is held as proposed, it will be the first one since October 2015.
But the chances for Red Cross talks seem lower, as North Korea has said there would be no family reunions unless South Korea repatriates Kim Ryon-hui, a North Korean defector, and 12 former workers from a Pyongyang-run restaurant in China who defected to Seoul. The North claimed they were kidnapped by Seoul’s spy agency.
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon urged North Korea to respond positively to Seoul’s offer, saying relieving military tension and resuming inter-Korean cooperation were the most urgent issues to attend to.
“Pyongyang needs to respond positively to our sincere offer if it really wants to pursue peace and the improvement of inter-Korean relations, and if it really respects the declarations made previously by the two Koreas,” Cho said in a press conference.
When asked about the possibility of the North rejecting the offer, Cho said the government would not be swayed by North Korea’s every response, either positive or negative, but would make efforts patiently to realize the offer.
Cho said the government wants the two Koreas, based on mutual understanding and respect, to have leading roles in achieving peace and reducing military tension. “Inter-Korean talks and cooperation will contribute to facilitating a virtuous circle of improving inter-Korean relations and resolving the nuclear issue.”