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Seoul reaffirms its flexibility on N.K.

June 27, 2011 - 18:59 By 신혜인
A senior South Korean official said Monday his government could temporarily put sensitive issues behind it once the stalled dialogue with North Korea resumes, hinting at growing flexibility to tackle the current stalemate.

Since the latest attacks last year, Seoul has suspended aid and dialogue, with firm determination not to do the North any favors until it admits responsibility for the deaths of dozens of military personnel and two civilians. While this attitude has been generally well-received by citizens here, it has been viewed as a major hurdle to restarting the multinational talks aimed at denuclearizing Pyongyang.

Issues over the attacks “don’t necessarily have to be dealt with in” the proposed nuclear talks between the two Koreas, the senior Seoul official, who recently attended the Seoul-Washington foreign ministers’ meeting, said.

“Yes, they can be dealt with as two separate issues ... and receiving an apology is not the precondition for any kind of talks,” he said on the condition of customary anonymity.

“This, however, does not mean we can forget about the attacks altogether and does not change the fact that a responsible attitude must be taken by North Korea,” the official added. “In the long run, North Korea’s attitude to this matter will affect all situations.”

The six-nation talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, have been suspended since the end of 2008 after Pyongyang walked from the negotiation table, claiming other dialogue partners had failed to keep promises.

Backed by its traditional ally China, the North has been increasing efforts to restart the talks, apparently desperate to secure food assistance to feed its people.

Upon Beijing’s suggestion, South Korea proposed holding nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang as the first step to resume larger-scale peace talks involving other regional powers. North Korea, however, discarded its reconciliatory gesture toward the South and has been upping hostile rhetoric since earlier this month.

“I am pretty sure North Korea is well aware of our position and that we are waiting for it to accept our offer for talks,” the Seoul official said, adding his government does not have immediate plans to make another official proposal for talks with Pyongyang.

South Korea is observing Washington’s decision-making process on the resumption of food aid to Pyongyang and the purported summit meeting between Russia and North Korea, the official said.

By Shin Hae-in (