Defense Ministry says it wants enough time to make preparations
Seoul’s Defense Ministry on Monday rejected North Korea’s proposal to hold working-level military talks at an earlier date, repeating that it wants to hold the meeting Feb. 11 as it originally suggested.
In a faxed message sent to the ministry last Saturday, the North suggested holding the preliminary talks Tuesday without elaborating on the reasons. The ministry faxed a message to the North on Monday, repeating its previous proposal.
Seoul officials said that the ministry wants to have enough time to prepare for the talks, and that it was better to hold the meeting after the Lunar New Year holiday this week.
Some officials here said that by giving less time for the South to prepare for the talks, the North may seek to lead what could be the first working-level inter-Korean talks since September in its own favor.
Last Wednesday, the South proposed holding the talks ― aimed at coordinating details about the date, venue, agenda and level of representatives for “high-level” military talks ― at the South-controlled Peace House in the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjeom at 10 a.m. on Feb. 11.
Seoul made the proposal after Pyongyang on Jan. 20 suggested holding the working-level talks to lay the groundwork for the high-level talks.
The North said it wanted to hold the high-level talks to explain its “views” on the sinking of the Cheonan in March and the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island in November, and discuss ways to address military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The North’s overture for talks with the South was the latest in its recent peace offensive, apparently intended to add to a mood conducive to the resumption of the stalled multilateral denuclearization talks, which could help it ease its economic travails and solidify the ongoing hereditary power succession.
Military officials said the high-level military talks were likely to be attended by defense ministers from the two sides. Should the talks between the defense chiefs take place, they would be the third of their kind following meetings in 2000 and 2007.
The Seoul government has insisted that high-level talks will be held only when North Korea takes “responsible measures” to address its deadly attacks, including making an official apology.
The two attacks together killed 50 South Koreans, including two civilians. The North has persistently denied its role in the sinking of the 1,200-ton Cheonan, and has claimed its artillery attack on Yeonpyeong was a response to aggression from the South.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org