World Bulletin/News Desk
South Korea Monday proposed high-level talks with North Korea to pave the way for eventual reunification, local media reported.
Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said his government had sent a fax message to the North offering dialogue in January on "issues of mutual concern," Yonhap national news agency said.
High on the list of issues to discuss will be the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, as well as commercial projects and sporting and cultural ties.
The South hopes to arrange another meeting between separated families before the Lunar New Year holidays in mid-February, Ryoo said.
The development follows months of increased tension between Pyongyang and its southern neighbor, as well as the wider world, particularly the U.S.
The North has recently become embroiled in claims of cyber attacks on U.S. studio Sony Pictures over the release of “The Interview” – a film that depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The U.S. has openly accused the North of being behind the attacks, leading to a war of words that led Pyongyang to liken U.S. President Barack Obama to a “monkey” over the weekend.
At the same time, the South has complained of cyber attacks on nuclear plants, which it has suggested the North may be behind.
That was preceded by an escalation of aggressive rhetoric between the two countries, cross-border exchanges of fire and the North’s objection to the dispersal of anti-Pyongyang leaflets by South Korean activists.
The fax was addressed to the North's head of South Korea affairs, Kim Yang-gon, who was among the delegation that made a surprise trip south for the Asian Games in October.
Official ministerial-level talks between the two sides last occurred in 2007, although they held a vice ministerial meeting in February this year.
While the South's President Park Geun-hye has repeatedly referred to the unification of the Koreas in glowing terms, very little tangible headway has been made since she took office in February.
Ryoo – also Park's deputy on the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation – told reporters that "the South and the North will have to meet each other and discuss ways toward a peaceful reunification."
The Koreas have been technically at war since a 1953 ceasefire.
The countries had looked set for vice ministerial talks between late October and early November but the plan was frozen, along with bilateral ties, when Pyongyang blamed Seoul for the spread of anti-North leaflets by activists.
Observers note that next year marks 15 years since the first inter-Korean summit, as well as the 70th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan’s 35-year occupation and the division of the peninsula.
The first meeting between the Kim and Park could take place in Russia in May – both have been invited by Russian President Vladimir Putin to his own country's World War II commemorations.
North Korea's response could become clearer when Kim offers his New Year's message in three days.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 29 Aralık 2014, 13:44