Hoping to ease growing tensions, South Korea offered on Monday to hold rare military talks with North Korea after Pyongyang test-fired its first intercontinental ballistic missile.
The South’s defense ministry proposed a meeting to be held on Friday at the border truce village of Panmunjom, while the Red Cross offered to hold talks on August 1 at the same venue.
If the government meeting goes ahead, it will mark the first official inter-Korea talks since December 2015. President Moon Jae-In’s conservative predecessor Park Geun-Hye had refused to engage in substantive dialogue with Pyongyang unless it made a firm commitment to denuclearization.
“We make the proposal for a meeting… aimed at stopping all hostile activities that escalate military tension along the land border,” the defense ministry said in a statement.
Moon, who took power in May, has advocated dialogue with the nuclear-armed North to bring it to the negotiating table and vowed to play a more active role in global efforts to tame the South’s unpredictable neighbor.
But Pyongyang has staged a series of missile launches in violation of UN resolutions — most recently on July 4 when it test-fired its first ICBM, a move which triggered global alarm and a push by US President Donald Trump to impose harsher UN sanctions.
Washington has also called on China, the North’s sole ally, to put more pressure on Pyongyang to curb its nuclear ambitions, which have advanced rapidly under leader Kim Jong-Un.
The Red Cross said it hoped for “a positive response” from its counterpart in the North in hopes of holding family reunions in early October. If realized, they would be the first for two years.
Millions of family members were separated by the conflict that sealed the division of the two countries. Many died without getting a chance to see or hear from their families on the other side of the heavily-fortified border, across which all civilian communication is banned.
With the passage of time, the number of survivors has diminished, with only around 60,000 members of divided families still left in the South.
“North Korea should respond to our sincere proposals if it really seeks peace on the Korean Peninsula”, Cho Myoung-Gyon, Seoul’s unification minister in charge of North Korea affairs, told reporters.
Cho stressed that Seoul “would not seek collapse of the North or unification through absorbing the North”, and urged Pyongyang to restore cross-border communication channels including a shuttered military hotline.