+ A

Moon wants talks with Pyongyang but there’s no channel

July 11,2017
With President Moon Jae-in back in Seoul, local government officials are putting their heads together to flesh out his inter-Korean peace vision described in a speech last Thursday at the Koerber Foundation in Berlin. A specific outline could come as early as this week, a senior government official told the JoongAng Ilbo Monday.

The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Seoul was likely to focus first on Moon’s suggestion to North Korea to ease military tensions. The president’s four-point peace vision also included a reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, resumption of inter-Korean dialogue and North Korea’s participation in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

On dialogue, another government source who spoke with the paper said internal discussions were ongoing as to whether South Korea would suggest so-called working-level or higher level talks to the North. Working level talks are conducted by middle-level officials.

However, officials said, one big problem that looms over any possible outreach is that the two Koreas do not have an official communication channel.

Pyongyang cut off direct communications with the South in February 2016 after Seoul closed down the jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex in response to Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test that January and a subsequent long-range ballistic missile launch.

In order to send any message, the government is said to be considering two main options - by having the spokesman of the National Defense Ministry or the Unification Ministry make an open statement to North Korea.

Pyongyang hasn’t even responded to Moon’s Berlin speech yet, which leaves officials wondering whether a spokesman’s statement would break the stalemate. A former official at the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations, said one plausible solution could be for South Korea to reach out through some kind of back channel, perhaps through the National Intelligence Service.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, who was appointed this month, said Monday during a parliamentary briefing for lawmakers on the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee that a tool for inter-Korean communication was a must for the “safe management” of bilateral affairs, but did not give specifics.

Moon’s softer approach to North Korea, a stark difference from his predecessor Park Geun-hye, has already been rebuffed. The North lambasted Moon’s “conflicting” stance towards inter-Korean relations last month in its first official response to his proposal for dialogue, and urged him not to oppose its weapons program if he wishes to improve ties.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, KIM POG-NEE [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]