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Seoul offers high-level talks to Pyongyang

December 29, 2014

South Korea has offered to hold high-level talks with North Korea on various issues to pave the way for the unification of the peninsula. There was no immediate response from the North.

Südkorea Ryoo Kihl-jae
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/EPA/YONHAP

South Korea's unification minister, Ryoo Kihl-jae told a press conference in Seoul on Monday that he was willing to meet with his North Korean counterpart in either of the countries' capitals for the rare high-level talks next month.

"I hope that the North will show an active response to this offer," Ryoo told reporters. "We are willing to discuss any issues of mutual concern," he added.

There was, however, no immediate response from the North and it wasn't clear if any response would be coming.

The last such talks were held last February and resulted in the reunions of family members separated by the division of the peninsula following the 1950-53 Korean War. Ryoo indicated that organizing a similar meeting would be high on the agenda of his proposed talks.

Nordkorea Treffen mit Familienmitgliedern aus Südkorea 22.02.2014
Koreans had emotional family reunions in FebruaryImage: Reuters

"We need dialogue and cooperation to implement such projects... I hope the talks will help ease the pain of the separated families before the Lunar New Year," he said, referring to a holiday observed by Koreans, which falls on February 19.

Ryoo said he also envisioned discussing a range of other issues to prepare for the unification of the country. Previous talk of unification, including by President Park Geun-hye at her last New Year's press conference, has drawn an angry response from the North, which has dismissed the idea as a plot to topple the communist regime in Pyongyang.

Talks proposal comes amid tensions

High-level talks between the two Koreas had also been planned for October, but this was followed by a renewed rise in tensions fueled by a series of minor military clashes and the meeting was cancelled.

North Korea also expressed anger over South Korean activists sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border using hot-air balloons, and slammed Seoul for not doing enough to stop the practice.

Tensions between Pyongyang and Seoul's key ally, the United States are currently even more strained than usual, amid Washington's accusations that North Korea was behind a theat to cinema goers viewing the film "The Interview," which pokes fun at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Pyongyang has denied being responsible for the threat, and has in turn accused Washington of being behind an Internet outage in the isolated nation over the past week.

pfd/se (AFP, AP)