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N. Korea steps up push for talks with reluctant S. Korea

All Headlines 14:13 January 11, 2011

By Sam Kim

SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Tuesday repudiated a South Korean view that Pyongyang is not being sincere about its push for dialogue, insisting that both sides sit down first at a table to test each other's resolve to iron out differences through talks.

The argument by Minju Joson, the North's Cabinet paper, came a day after South Korea dismissed Pyongyang's proposal for talks as an appeal for aid and demanded that any future dialogue deal with North Korea's nuclear development and armed attacks on the South.

"Whether we are sincere or not will be proven when we sit together face-to-face," Minju Joson said in an editorial carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, claiming that it is not the North but the South that is being insincere.

Despite heightened tension after the North bombarded the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong on Nov. 23, North Korea has repeatedly called for dialogue with the South, saying it is the duty of the divided countries that share the same ethnic roots.

But the North, which has conducted two nuclear tests, refuses to discuss its nuclear arms programs with Seoul, arguing they are not intended for military use against the South.

The paper also said the South is to blame for the escalation of tension between the sides and should stop repeating its mantra that no dialogue will take place until Pyongyang is "sincere."

In a salvo of messages to the South on Monday, the North proposed that the sides hold talks in its border town of Kaesong on Jan. 27 to discuss the venue and date for higher-level dialogue.

Pyongyang also proposed holding Red Cross talks on Feb. 1 in the South Korean border city of Munsan, offering to reopen a joint economic cooperation office in Kaesong and a Red Cross hotline at the joint border village of Panmunjom on Wednesday.

The office in Kaesong was closed in May last year after South Korea held North Korea responsible for the deadly sinking of a warship earlier that year. Pyongyang continues to deny torpedoing the ship while Seoul says the North should apologize for it.

Speaking to reporters on the customary condition of anonymity, a South Korean Unification Ministry official said Tuesday his government plans to take the call made through the hotline in Panmunjom. But he said officials would not return to the Kaesong office as they would serve no purpose amid the suspension of cross-border trade.

South Korea banned trade with North Korea after a multinational investigation found that the communist nation attacked the South Korean warship in March, killing 46 sailors. Seoul has also refused official dialogue with Pyongyang, even though the sides have held Red Cross talks on and off.

In their last round of Red Cross talks, which took place in Kaesong in October, North Korea demanded South Korea provide massive rice and fertilizer assistance in exchange for concessions over humanitarian programs.

Minju Joson accused the South of ruining a mood for detente at the time by refusing to agree to the North's demand, saying, "The inter-Korean relations would not have entered as catastrophic a state as it has now had the South kept pace with our earnest efforts."

South Korea said in its New Year plans that it would not fall for a charm offensive that is followed up by provocation, a pattern the North has been blamed for repeatedly in the past.

samkim@yna.co.kr
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