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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 4)

All News 07:13 January 04, 2018

Hope for dialogue
North Korea should show sincerity for thawing ties

Expectations are growing for inter-Korean dialogue as Pyongyang reopened a suspended communication link with Seoul, Wednesday, to accept the latter's proposal for high-level talks. The talks are aimed at discussing North Korea's willingness to send a delegation to take part in the upcoming Winter Olympic Games. The move came after Kim Jong-un expressed his intention regarding the Olympics in his New Year address.

The dialogue, if realized, will be the first since the two Koreas held a vice ministerial meeting in December 2015. Since then South-North talks have been suspended amid deteriorating ties due to Pyongyang's continued nuclear tests and missile launches. Delegates of both sides are likely to sit together at the truce village of Panmunjeom early next week to discuss issues related to the North's participation in the Winter Games which will open Feb. 9 in PyeongChang.

We hope Seoul and Pyongyang will hold successful talks so that North Korean athletes can compete in the Olympics. Their participation will send a positive, albeit symbolic, message not only to the Olympic movement but also with regard to efforts for peace on the Korean Peninsula and across the globe. It could also serve as a turning point in defusing tensions arising from Pyongyang's nuclear and missile development programs.

However, it is still too early to paint a rosy picture about inter-Korean rapprochement. We cannot be too optimistic because the two Koreas may face difficulties in deciding who should represent each side and what to discuss even if they agree to hold talks. In this regard, the liberal Moon Jae-in government should take a cautious approach in order not to play into the hands of Kim Jong-un who is waving an olive branch to the South while threatening to use his "nuclear button" against the U.S.

The Moon administration may be too focused on attracting a North Korean delegation to the Olympics without asking the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions. It is worth noting President Moon stressed in welcoming Kim's address that an improvement in inter-Korean ties cannot go separately with resolving Pyongyang's nuclear program. So Moon should take a firm position that the ultimate goal of any dialogue with the North is to achieve its denuclearization.

The South needs to take the lead in the talks to make a breakthrough and get a negotiated settlement of the nuclear crisis. Kim may try to use the Olympics as a leverage to neutralize the U.N. Security Council sanctions against his country as well as drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington to weaken their alliance. He may also attempt to create an ideological divide between progressives and conservatives in the South over the North's peace overture.

Therefore it is important for Seoul to strengthen its alliance with Washington. The Moon government should pay more attention to deep skepticism among American leaders and policymakers about Kim's real intentions. Finally we urge Kim to remove such skepticism by changing course and taking the path toward denuclearization.

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