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‘N.K. has ulterior motives for offering talks’

Feb. 6, 2011 - 18:21 By Song Sangho
Seoul remains firm that Pyongyang should first show ‘sincerity’

Through its continuing overtures for talks with the South, North Korea apparently seeks to be seen taking the initiative to enhance inter-Korean relations that plunged to new lows over two attacks last year, experts here said Sunday.

Other motives behind its recent “peace offensive” include creating a mood conducive to the resumption of the multilateral aid-for-denuclearization talks and causing an ideological dispute in the South over divisive issues involving the North, they said.

Last Tuesday, the communist state repeated its call to hold the inter-Korean Red Cross talks. The next day, the North’s parliament ― the Supreme People’s Assembly ― sent a letter to the National Assembly here, with another proposal for inter-Korean dialogue.

The North also recently sent an invitation to a South Korean civic group dedicated to humanitarian assistance to the impoverished state. All these proposals came ahead of the inter-Korean working-level military talks, scheduled to take place on Tuesday with an aim to lay the groundwork for high-level military talks.

“Through the proposals for talks, the North seeks to show the international community that it is strongly willing to improve inter-Korean ties,” said Kim Yong-hyun, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University.

“The proposals from various sectors including the civic group also indicate that the North wants to show that it is leading the efforts to enhance the bilateral relations. The North is very active now as it has nothing to lose.”

Kim added, “With the proposals, the North could also spark ideological disputes among political circles here. Some politicians here will say the talks should be held immediately while others argue that any dialogue should resume only after the North apologizes for their attacks last year.”

The Seoul government has maintained that the North should show “sincerity” and take “responsible measures” for the sinking of the corvette Cheonan in March and the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island in November.

Some government officials see the overtures for talks as an attempt to ease the firm stance Seoul has maintained since the two attacks that together killed 50 South Koreans including two civilians.

“While our government is maintaining its firm stance, the North is apparently seeking to ease it with the repeated proposals for talks,” said a senior government official, refusing to be named.

Experts also pointed out that the North may be seeking to take advantage of the U.S. and China calling for more inter-Korean engagement to mitigate peninsular tensions that spiked following the attacks.

The U.S. and China have apparently wanted the two Koreas to improve their relations through dialogue before the resumption of the six-party talks that could help the North ease its economic travails and solidify the ongoing hereditary power succession process.

“North Korea shows (the U.S. and China) that it is actively accepting the calls from them to improve inter-Korean relations. Through the proposals, the North also tries to conjure up the international image that it is seeking peace and dialogue,” said Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

The Seoul government plans to check the sincerity of the North at the upcoming working-level military talks, which are aimed at coordinating details about the agenda, date, venue and level of representatives for the high-level talks.

The North said that during the high-level talks, it wants to express its views on the two attacks, and discuss ways to ease military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Seoul’s Defense Ministry has insisted that high-level talks will be held only when North Korea takes “responsible measures” to address its deadly attacks, including making an official apology.

The reclusive state has persistently denied its role in the sinking of the 1,200-ton Cheonan, and has claimed its artillery attack on Yeonpyeong was a response to aggression from the South.

By Song Sang-ho (