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[Editorial] Don’t bend principle

North Korea is desperate in its call for dialogue with South Korea. But Seoul is hesitant on deciding what to do about Pyongyang’s sudden peace offensive that comes after one of the worst years of military provocations since the Korean War.

Pyongyang has heated up its language in the overtures since the three major official newspapers first proposed inter-Korean dialogue in their New Year joint editorial, which customarily reflected their government’s key policies. The next was a “joint statement” by the government, political parties and civic groups, also urging an unconditional resumption of bilateral talks to discuss all problems between the two sides.

The third call came on Saturday from “Jopyeongtong,” or the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, the main organization in charge of anti-South Korea propaganda campaigns. It was the first time since the 1990s that Jopyeongtong waved an olive branch toward the South instead of its usual harsh denunciations on Seoul’s policies.

What was peculiar about the latest Pyongyang offer of dialogue was that it lacked the habitual preamble blaming the South for the present state of inter-Korean confrontation. The Jopyeongtong statement contained concrete requests for separate talks on restarting Mountt Geumgang tourism and expanding the Gaeseong joint industrial complex in addition to a general political dialogue for reduction of tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Officials at the Ministry of Unification as well as the presidential staff are closely examining the words in the series of peace moves to catch the real intent behind them before making a decision on whether to accept the offer or not. Seoul has to take a position at least before U.S.-China summit talks in Washington next week where the Korean problem will be a major topic.

The two leaders are likely to agree on the need to reopen the six-party talks for the denuclearization of North Korea and suggest that the two Koreas discuss improving their relations through direct dialogue. It therefore will be wiser for Seoul to take its own initiative on inter-Korean contacts rather than being forced into them under international pressure led by the two superpowers.

Seoul could make a reasonable counterproposal to Pyongyang to convince the international community of its sincerity. Having lost 46 sailors in the North’s torpedo attack in March and again two Marines and two civilians in the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island, we should demand that Pyongyang take an action that shows sincerity on its part regarding the wanton attacks on the South.

Any direct talks with the North should cover the specific issue of denuclearization as a precondition for resuming humanitarian and economic aid to the North. The North has been threatening the South with a “nuclear holocaust,” so it has first to make a firm commitment to abandoning its nuclear ambition if the two Koreas are to pursue improved relations.

It was in May last year that Jopyeongtong declared “no contact with the South” during the tenure of President Lee Myung-bak in response to Seoul’s tough actions following the Cheonan attack. Now the same organization is asking the Lee administration not to spend the rest of its term without making official contacts with the North.

We see it is economy after all that drives North Korea to knock at the doors of the South at the start of 2011. With the goal of achieving a “strong, prosperous state” approaching in 2012, Kim Jong-il has not much time to make a deal with the South. Seoul should wisely exercise the initiatives now it holds on a bold strategy to change the course of the North with economic offensives.
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