S. Korea puts policy emphasis on building dialogue channel with DPRK

January 5, 2012 11:52 pm 

SEOUL, Jan. 5 — South Korea said Thursday it will put its policy priority on establishing a dialogue channel with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), as the two Koreas remain at odds over border conflicts.

South Korea will seek to maintain a "stable" communication channel with its estranged neighbor and is willing to put all outstanding issues on the table, the Unification Ministry, which oversees inter-Korean affairs, said in an annual report submitted to President Lee Myung-bak.

The annual report comes as tension remains between the former wartime enemies following the two deadly border incidents in 2010, which killed 50 South Koreans and prompted Seoul authorities to suspend nearly all exchanges with Pyongyang.

It also follows the death of top DPRK leader Kim Jong Il, which Lee said in his recent New Year's speech is "portending a sea change in the developments" on the divided peninsula.

The president called for ending "mutual distrust through dialogue" and said the window of opportunity for mending inter-Korean ties "always remains open," indicating a shift from his previous hard-line stance on Pyongyang.

While Seoul has yet to lift sanctions placed on Pyongyang after the border incidents, officials here have pledged a more "flexible approach" in dealing with the DPRK since last year.

Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik, however, stopped short of offering specifics as to how to secure a reliable dialogue channel. "We are not considering any drastic measures to set up a dialogue channel," Yu, who came to office in September with an agenda to resuscitate relations with Pyongyang, said in a press briefing Thursday.

"But keeping the door to dialogue open can be understood as a proposal for dialogue in a comprehensive sense," the minister said, even as he added Seoul does not plan to officially propose talks in the immediate future.

All outstanding disputes can be discussed once such a channel is secured, including the two border incidents Seoul blames on Pyongyang and historic joint statements made when the two Koreas were on friendlier term, according to the minister.

Still, for Seoul, receiving an apology from Pyongyang for the deadly border incidents remains an important condition for any potential talks to make progress.

Pyongyang refuses to apologize for its alleged sinking of a South Korean warship and shelling of the western border island of Yeonpyeong.

It denies its involvement in the sinking and claims the shelling was provoked by a military drill between South Korea and the United States near a disputed western maritime border.

"There is absolutely no change (in our position that) an apology has to be made," Yu told reporters. "But that doesn't mean we'll do nothing unless an apology is made."

Other issues, such as forms of an apology and measures Seoul would take once given an apology, can be discussed with DPRK officials, the minister said, adding those engaged in such talks will have to be senior officials, not working-level officials. (PNA/Xinhua) DCT/utb

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