South Korea's stance on North unchanged: Minister

South Korea's stance on North unchanged: Minister
From left to right: North Korean Hwang Pyong-So and South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-Jae leaving a hotel at Incheon on October 4, 2014.

Seoul's Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said Wednesday that South Korea's stance on a set of pending inter-Korean issues would not change abruptly just because of last week's surprise visit by top North Korean officials.

During a parliamentary audit, the minister renewed calls for the North to take "responsible steps" first with regards to its 2010 attack on the South Korean corvette Cheonan that killed 46 sailors and caused Seoul to ban all government-level economic exchanges with Pyongyang.

"It is clear that we would like to take advantage of the visit by the top North Korean officials as an opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations. But we are not reconsidering our North Korea policy or principles (just because of the visit)," said Ryoo.

Last Saturday, the 11-member high-level delegation flew to Incheon to attend the Asian Games. The group included Hwang Pyong-so, director of the North Korean military's General Political Bureau; Choe Ryong-hae, a secretary of the ruling Workers' Party; and Kim Yang-gon, director of the party's North Korean United Front Department.

The delegation's visit has raised hopes for improved cross-border relations as it agreed to resume high-level talks with the South later this month or early next month. The high-level dialogue was last held in February.

The visit came as the bilateral relationship has been deteriorating with the North hardening its verbal attacks against President Park Geun-hye, who has continued to urge the North to give up nuclear arms and improve its human rights conditions.

While stressing the importance of dialogue, Ryoo said that all pending issues can be discussed at the upcoming high-level meeting.

"We can put all the issues on the table when the high-level talks open. But we need to look at how those issues originated," he said.

"The issues occurred after conflicts. It is, thus, difficult to resolve them right away without looking at the causes of the issues. We continue to believe that the North should take responsible steps to address those issues."

At the meeting, the North is expected to call on the South to lift its so-called May 24 measures that ban inter-Korean economic exchanges, and resume the long-stalled tours to Mount Geumgangsan. The two issues are vital for the North, which has been struggling to shore up its debilitated economy.

As to the sinking of the corvette Cheonan, the North denies responsibility, arguing that Seoul's accusation is fabricated.

The tour programme to Mount Geumgangsan stopped after a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier there for allegedly trespassing into a restricted area in July 2008. Seoul has demanded a full-scale investigation into the case and security assurances.

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