North Korea open to inter-Korean dialogue

North Korea open to inter-Korean dialogue
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C)

North Korea said Monday it is open to fostering trust and restarting dialogue with the South as the divided states mark the 15th anniversary of their landmark peace declaration that it said should be upheld irrespective of leadership changes.

Yet Pyongyang reiterated the significance of an "independent approach" to cross-border and unification affairs, calling on Seoul to shelve slander, joint military drills with the US and anti-North Korea international alliances.

"There is no reason not to hold dialogue and negotiations between the two states if the mood for trust and reconciliation is created," said a statement carried in the name of the North Korean government by its official Korean Central News Agency.

"The two Koreas should take practical steps to implement the historic joint statements."

In 2000, South Korea's then-President Kim Dae-jung held a watershed summit with North Korea's late strongman Kim Jong-il and announced the June 15 joint declaration, paving the way for inter-Korean rapprochement through humanitarian and economic co-operation.

But cross-border ties appear to have only been souring, rather than showing signs of a thaw, as the North's Kim Jong-un regime continues to develop nuclear weapons and engage in other provocations and shows of force.

The Park Geun-hye administration, for its part, has repeatedly failed to capitalise on the rare momentum for a reconciliation, including a surprise visit on Oct. 4 to the South by three top North Korean officials primarily aimed at attending the closing ceremony of the Asian Games, and the first high-level inter-Korean talks since 2007 in February 2014 and ensuing reunions of separated families -- in the face of spats such as over anti-Pyongyang leaflets or Seoul's bilateral sanctions.

Ahead of the anniversary, an inter-Korean committee chiefly consisting of the South's activists and the North's officials had initially sought to arrange its first joint celebration on June 14-15 in Seoul and Pyongyang simultaneously in a rare conciliatory move. Yet their plans did not materialize as the sides wrangled over the location of major events and programme details, dampening hopes for an upcoming project to mark the 70th anniversary of the peninsula's liberation on Aug. 15.

Though the latest statement struck an unusually upbeat tone, the prospects for the checkered relationship remain bleak given the regime's unabated military ambition and inconceivable demands associated with the South Korea-US alliance.

The two Koreas agreed to refrain from slander during the February 2014 talks as a first step to building mutual trust. But the heated debate over anti-North Korea leaflets has deepened Seoul's dilemma between the need for improved ties with Pyongyang and the citizens' freedom of expression and assembly and association

The allies are also scheduled to stage their annual major military exercises in August.

With Park's third year being marred by a string of scandals and bungled disaster responses, the Aug. 15 celebration may mean a pivotal chance to bring about a turnaround in inter-Korean relations and keep the lame-duck period at bay, some analysts say.

"We're hoping to consult smoothly with North Korea for the success of joint projects for the liberation anniversary at the private level, and on the government level, if official dialogue is needed to expedite the plans, we're longing to hold one," Unification Ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said at a news briefing early in the day.

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