South Korea proposes military talks with North Korea on Feb. 11

FILE : South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (C) encourages army soldiers during his visit to a military observation post of the front-line unit in the demilitarized zone in Yanggu, far northeast of Seoul, December 23, 2010. REUTERS/Blue House/Handout

SEOUL, Jan. 26 (KATAKAMI.COM / Yonhap) — South Korea said Wednesday it has proposed holding working-level military talks with North Korea on Feb. 11, in what would be their first dialogue since the North’s deadly bombardment of a border island in November.

The proposed inter-Korean talks, which would be held at the border truce village of Panmunjom, are aimed at setting the time, place and agenda for a higher-level military meeting, said Kim Min-seok, a spokesman at the South’s defense ministry.

North Korea has yet to respond to the South’s proposal made via a military communications line at Panmunjom, Kim said.

The talks are expected to be led by Col. Moon Sang-gyun of the South and Col. Ri Son-kwon of the North, who have served as representatives of working-level military talks from each side for years. But the level of representatives is likely to be upgraded to general-level officers, depending on the North’s response, Kim said.

“When North Korea sends us a reply message, we will decide on the level of representatives at the working-level talks,” Kim said.
The South’s proposal came less than a week after North Korea suggested that the two sides hold the working-level meeting between defense officials, as well as talks between their defense chiefs, to “resolve pending military issues.”

The defense ministry has said it is willing to hold ministerial-level talks, but only if North Korea takes responsibility for the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the torpedoing of a warship last March.

South Korean defense officials have also insisted that North Korea apologize for the two attacks that killed a total of 50 South Koreans and promise not to provoke the South if the ministerial-level talks take place.

“Our government’s stance is clear. North Korea must take responsible measures to account for the attacks on the Cheonan warship and Yeonpyeong Island, apologize for the attacks and pledged not to provoke again,” Kim said. “If North Korea refuses to do so, the ministerial-level talks won’t be held.”

In the proposal last week, the North said it wants to discuss its “viewpoint” on the attacks, according to a report by its state media, the Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea has so far denied any involvement in the torpedo attack of the Cheonan warship that killed 46 sailors, although a multinational investigation confirmed the North’s culpability.

Pyongyang has also claimed that its artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, in which two marines and two civilians died, was legitimate because the South provoked first by holding a life-fire drill near the island with some shells falling on the North’s side.

Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said North Korea is unlikely to meet the South’s demands for ministerial-level talks.

“The possibility of holding ministerial-level talks is low as the South has set the North’s apology over the Cheonan attack as a precondition,” Yang said.

The proposals of military talks between Seoul and Pyongyang come amid renewed efforts by regional powers to reopen the stalled six-party talks on the North’s nuclear programs.

The development followed a U.S.-China summit last week, during which the leaders of the two nations agreed that inter-Korean dialogue is necessary before resuming the six-party talks.

At the summit, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao “expressed concern” about North Korea’s recently disclosed uranium-enrichment facility and called for “necessary steps” to restart the six-party talks.

Also on Wednesday, the South’s Unification Ministry urged the North to agree to hold separate inter-Korean talks on its nuclear programs as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg is visiting Seoul for talks with South Korean officials on the North’s nuclear issues.  (*)

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