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(2nd LD) S. Korea open to talks with N. Korea on sanctions

All Headlines 16:22 August 26, 2015

(ATTN: UPDATES with ministry's position in paras 8-9)

SEOUL, Aug. 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea Wednesday left open the possibility of holding further talks with North Korea to discuss the lifting of sanctions on Pyongyang amid easing tensions between the two sides.

Following weeks of military standoffs, the two Koreas struck a deal Tuesday to end the hostilities and work for better ties through a series of measures, including increased civilian exchanges between the sides.

Nearly all inter-Korean projects have been suspended since Seoul slapped sanctions on Pyongyang over its 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship, which claimed the lives of 46 South Korean sailors.

Without an apology from Pyongyang, Seoul has refused to lift the sanctions.

"On the issue of the May 24 (sanctions), if government-level talks are held and various sub-meetings are held within that framework, I believe it will be the North, which has an interest in the issue, that will bring it up," Jeong Joon-hee, spokesman of the Unification Ministry, said during a press briefing.

"I think it's an issue that could totally be handled through dialogue then."

In Tuesday's deal, the two sides agreed to hold another round of talks in Seoul or Pyongyang in the near future.

The ministry later stressed that the government's position on the sanctions has not changed, saying the North should first take "responsible measures."

Along with an apology, South Korea has demanded the North promise to prevent similar incidents and punish those responsible for the sinking.

Last weekend's marathon talks leading up to the agreement did not touch upon the sanctions issue, according to South Korean officials.

The sanctions include a ban on the passage of North Korean ships through South Korean waters, a suspension of inter-Korean trade and aid projects that do not fall under the category of humanitarian assistance, a ban on South Koreans traveling to the North, with the exception of Mount Kumgang and the inter-Korean industrial park in the border city of Kaesong, as well as a ban on new investments in the North.

Some of the measures have been relaxed over the years, leading to civic groups' fertilizer shipments to the North in April and fresh investment in a logistics project involving the two Koreas and Russia.

Official data, however, show a sharp decrease in cross-border trade outside the Kaesong Industrial Complex from US$1.7 billion in 2009 to $4 million last year.

Asked whether South Korea could accept an expression of regret for an apology, as it did in the case of the landmine attack, Jeong said that issue would be handled through further talks.

He also declined to give details of when and at what level the talks would be held, saying preparations and reviews are under way.


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