SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Less than two weeks after North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missile test, South Korea’s new president has offered to hold talks at the tense border separating the two Koreas in what would be the rivals’ first face-to-face meeting since late 2015.
President Moon Jae-in’s overture Monday clearly showed again that he prefers diplomacy over pressure or economic sanctions to try to improve ties between the two Koreas and persuade the North to give up its nuclear weapons program.
Moon’s government proposed two sets of talks to discuss how to dial down tensions and resume reunions of aging Koreans separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
But it’s unclear if those talks will be realized. The North recently voiced suspicion over Moon’s North Korea policy, and some conservatives in South Korea worry that his overture might weaken international pressure on North Korea.
A look at Moon’s proposed talks and their prospects:
WHAT PRESIDENT MOON IS PLANNING
With North Korea pushing to expand its nuclear and missile arsenals, relations between the two Koreas are at one of their lowest points in decades. Moon’s two conservative predecessors suspended large aid shipments and major cooperation projects, and cross-border communication hotlines have been shut down. Official talks between the sides have not been held since December 2015.
Moon, who calls his predecessors’ hard-line policies a total failure, has said he would employ both dialogue and pressure to resolve the North Korea standoff. After the North fired an ICBM on July 4, Moon quickly condemned the launch as a “reckless” and “irresponsible” provocation. But he still has not backed off from his outreach to North Korea, arguing during a recent speech that both Koreas must stop hostile activities along the border and resume family reunions.
On Monday, Seoul’s Defense Ministry proposed talks at the border village of Panmunjom this Friday to discuss how to ease border-area tensions, while the Red Cross said it wants separate talks at Panmunjom on Aug. 1 to discuss family reunions. It was the Moon government’s first formal proposal for talks with North Korea since its May 10 inauguration.
There was no immediate response from North Korea.
TALKS HAVE BEEN RARE THROUGH THE DECADES
During a period of detente from 1998 to 2008, there was a flurry of talks and exchange programs between the two Koreas. During that period, two liberal South Korean presidents went to Pyongyang and held landmark summit talks with then-leader Kim Jong Il, the father of current North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un. Kim Jong Il, meanwhile, sent his premier, spy chief and other top officials to Seoul for talks.