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S. Korea open to talks with N.K. without preconditions: minister

All Headlines 12:02 December 22, 2017

SEOUL, Dec. 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is willing to have dialogue with North Korea over issues of concerns to the North without preconditions to improve frayed inter-Korean ties, its pointman on unification said Friday.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon also voiced hope for North Korea's participation in the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics, saying that it will be a "good" occasion for the North if the regime seeks negotiations.

"If we can hold talks with North Korea, we are willing to have talks with the North over issues of concerns to it in an open-minded manner and without conditions," Cho told reporters.

"In that sense, we will make efforts to restore strained inter-Korean relations and make better ties to help resolve North Korea's nuclear problem," he added.

His remarks came amid cautious optimism that the North may turn to a peace offensive next year as it has declared that it has completed the "state nuclear force."

Cho's comment is seen as a step forward from the government's stance that the mood for dialogue can be set in with North Korea suspending additional nuclear and missile tests.

On inter-Korean talks, a senior government official said that there is a need to sound out the North for exploratory talks as communication channels are closed amid long-strained ties.

"There is a need to explore what each side wants by meeting without any conditions for each other. There could be disagreements and also common ground, but compromise can be found," the official said, asking not to be named.

He added that Seoul is open to making additional dialogue offers to Pyongyang. The North has been silent toward the South's July offer for military talks and dialogue on reunions for separated families.

"If North Korea offers dialogue, Seoul is ready to actively review it," the official said.

The South Korean government is pinning hopes on the Winter Games slated for February as it thinks the North's participation could help bring a conciliatory mood to the Korean Peninsula.

President Moon Jae-in said that he proposed delaying joint annual military drills between Seoul and Washington that would coincide with the Winter Olympics and the Paralympics. Pyongyang has long denounced the exercises as a war rehearsal.

The North missed a deadline to confirm whether it would send its figure skating pairs team, but the doors are still open for North Korea, as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) may grant select North Korean athletes wild-card entries.

On North Korea's clarification over its participation, "(We may wait) until mid-January or possibly after that," said the official asking for anonymity.

He added that the North may be able to show its arguably peace-loving image and seek momentum for dialogue with the U.S. by taking part in the Olympics.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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