South Korea Proposes Inter-Korean Military, Red Cross Talks to North Korea

People ride bicycles on a road that runs along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas near the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, 17 July 2017. Photo: Yonhap/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • South Korea has offered North Korea two types of bilateral talks.
  • Military talks are proposed to be held later this week.
  • Red Cross talks on resuming family reunions are proposed to be held on August 1.
  • Last times inter-Korean military and Red Cross meetings were held were in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
  • Negotiation proposal is a first step towards realizing South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s vision for achieving peace and rapprochement through dialogue.

South Korea has proposed to the regime of Kim Jong-un in North Korea that “inter-Korean” military talks be held in order to calm down tensions along the border between the two states.

The proposal comes against the backdrop of North Korea’s continuing missile tests seen as provocations by the international community.

North Korea’s regime recently carried out a new ballistic missile test, and claimed that the rocket was the much coveted intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

According to experts the newly tested North Korean ICBM is unlikely to have the capacity to deliver nuclear weapons. South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has warned North Korea not to cross a “red line.”

It was North Korea’s 12th rocket test (and ninth successful one) since US President Donald Trump assumed office in January.

A US nuclear expert warned that Kim Jong-un might be coming closer to being able to produce a hydrogen bomb, also known as thermonuclear weapon, as it is able to produce tritium, a key element.

North Korea recently carried out a new test of a rocket engine that could be used for powering an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the weapon that can threaten directly the US mainland.

On behalf of the Kim Jong-un regime, North Korea’s Ambassador to India in June offered the US a conditional moratorium on his country’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

The offer came against the backdrop of the death of US college student Otto Warmbier who passed away after 17 months in North Korean captivity, and for which Pyongyang denied responsibility, and of South Korea’s decision to suspend the further deployment of the US THAAD missile shield.

In other North Korea-related developments, US President Trump has warned that America can employ “severe things” against the North Korean regime, the US has conducted a successful THAAD test, while China has rejected the notion that it bears responsibility for the North Korean regime.

Military Talks

South Korea on Monday proposed holding inter-Korean military talks later this week on reducing tensions along the border, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

Seoul wants to hold the rare meeting on Friday at Tongilgak, a North Korean building in the truce village of Panmunjom, according to the Ministry of National Defense.

Its aim is to halt “all acts of hostility” near the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) that bisects the two Koreas, the Ministry said in a statement read out by Vice Minister Suh Choo-suk.

It requested that Pyongyang respond to the offer through the inter-Korean military communication line in the western region after restoring it.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry, however, did not specify agenda items and the level of chief representative apparently in order to allow flexibility.

If held, it would be the first dialogue between the military authorities of the two sides in almost three years.

The last working-level meeting at Panmunjom between South and North Korea was held on Oct. 15, 2014. It was supposed to ease tensions but failed to reach an agreement.

In the possible new round of negotiations, South Korea is expected to propose that the two Koreas stop sending loudspeaker-based propaganda broadcasts across the Military Demarcation Line.

North Korea is expected to focus on blocking the cross-border spread of anti-Pyongyang leaflets by South Korean activists.

Observers say chances are relatively high that the North will agree to hold the military talks although it may propose another date.

Yonhap reminds that when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un addressed the 7th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea in May 2016, he voiced hope for military talks with the South, saying it would serve as an opportunity to reduce risk of border clashes.

A South Korean soldier stands guards in front of a poster on the Tongil bridge border checkpoint at the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Paju, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea, 17 July 2017. Photo: Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Red Cross Talks

The South Korean government made a separate proposal on reopening Red Cross talks to discuss ways to resume family reunions on the occasion of the Chuseok holiday in early October.

Such a joint event was last held in October 2015 to arrange the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

The South Korean Red Cross delivered the offer of holding the talks on Aug. 1 at the Peace House, a Panmunjom building controlled by the South. It said it was waiting for the North’s reply through the now-dormant liaison office in Panmunjom.

It is uncertain whether North Korea will return to the Red Cross talks as its regime is said to remain angry about Seoul’s refusal to repatriate Kim Ryon-hui, a North Korean defector.

South Korea has stated that she had come to the country at her own decision and there was no legal ground to send her back, while North Korea says she has changed her mind and wants to return north.

Peace Vision

The administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in is said to be eager to restart humanitarian assistance and exchanges despite the North’s continuing provocations.

Unveiling his peace vision in the German capital Berlin earlier this month, the South’s liberal President Moon stressed the importance of dialogue to address the current situation, which he described as “highly dangerous.”

He said his government would strive to establish a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula on top of continued denuclearization efforts.

Stopping hostile acts along the MDL that escalate military tensions can be a first and meaningful step, as Korea marks the 64th anniversary of the Armistice Agreement on July 27, he added.

In their Washington, D.C. summit in late June, Moon won US President Donald Trump’s support for Seoul’s attempt to take the driving seat in handling security issues directly involving the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea’s political parties on Monday showed mixed reactions to Seoul’s proposal for cross-border talks with North Korea.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) opposed the “unilateral” overture, pointing to Pyongyang’s continued provocations, while the liberal parties hailed the proposal as an opportunity to ease inter-Korean tensions.

The conservative Bareun Party demanded that Seoul prioritize addressing the North’s nuclear and missile threats at the proposed talks, and that the family reunions take place without any conditions.

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