A North Korean soldier, right, and a South Korean counterpart look at each other through a window at a UN building in the truce village of Panmunjom, where Seoul has suggested the talks should take place © Reuters
The move to engage with the Kim Jong Un regime, which this month successfully tested its first inter-continental ballistic missile, is likely to rile the US, as President Donald Trump attempts to rally the international community to bolster sanctions and pile pressure on Pyongyang.
Should Pyongyang agree to the overture, the military talks would be the first for three years. They have been slated for Friday in the truce village of Panmunjom, located in the heavily fortified but misnamed demilitarised zone, or DMZ, between the two nations.
The proposal comes a week after South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in outlined his vision for dialogue with North Korea during a speech in Berlin.
“We do not want North Korea’s collapse, nor will we seek any form of unification by absorption,” he said.
Seoul has also proposed reopening Red Cross talks, aimed at resuming reunions of families split by the bisection of the peninsula during the Korean war in the 1950s.
North Korea has yet to respond to Seoul’s proposal but experts in Seoul expect Pyongyang to agree to military talks, although it is less likely to be co-operative on resuming reunions of separated families.
“They have built up mistrust of each other over the past decade and their opinions differ quite a lot on major issues so they won’t be able to solve everything through just one meeting,” said Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korea Studies. “Still, a meeting would be helpful in easing tension and gradually regaining trust in each other.”
Since being elected in May, Mr Moon has made repeated overtures to North Korea, highlighting his desire to resume economic and political engagement with Mr Kim. The approach has been dubbed the “Moonshine policy” for its semblance to the “Sunshine policy” of former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun.
Pyongyang has so far rebuffed Mr Moon’s efforts. An article in the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper derided his Berlin speech as “sophistry”.
“[The proposal] is riddled with sophistries like sleep talking, which only pose hurdles rather than helping improve North-South relations,” the report said. “The overall content, enumerated under the name of peace, carries confrontational intentions to quash its neighbour while relying on foreign forces.”
The move comes as North Korea has re-emerged as a potential geopolitical flashpoint amid its rapid development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
Ahead of the G20 summit in Hamburg earlier this month, Pyongyang set off alarm bells in the US by test-firing the Hwasong 14, a long-range ballistic missile theoretically capable of reaching Alaska.
The issue is a top foreign policy priority for the White House, which has not ruled out attacking the isolated Asian nation in an effort to halt its weapons development.
Additional reporting by Song Jung-a