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South Korea's new president wants military talks with North Korea

South Korea’s president has proposed holding military talks with North Korea in a bid to ease growing regional tensions, inflamed by Pyongyang’s recent claim to have successfully tested a long-range missile. While many experts believe the proposal is a rational move toward lowering the threat level at the border, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has yet to respond to the invitation.

President Moon Jae-in, whose parents are from North Korea, suggested Monday that talks could take place as soon as July 21. The newly elected leader is hopeful about an agreement coming in time for the anniversary of the 1953 armistice agreement that ended the Korean War, on July 27 — though no truce was agreed to at the time, meaning the two sides are still technically at war.


“Talks and cooperation between the two Koreas to ease tension and bring about peace on the Korean Peninsula will be instrumental for pushing forth a mutual, virtuous cycle for inter-Korea relations and North Korea’s nuclear problem,” the South’s unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, told a news briefing.

The government in Seoul is also proposing separate talks led by Red Cross groups in both countries, in the hopes of resuming a humanitarian project to reunite families split during the Korean War in the 1950s.

Though the hermit kingdom has yet to respond to the proposals, South Korea’s vice defense minister, Suh Choo-suk, appeared confident, saying: “We expect a positive response from the North.”

China, often accused of not doing enough to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear program, welcomed the call. “We hope that North and South Korea can work hard to go in a positive direction and create conditions to break the deadlock and resume dialogue and consultation,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said.

Since coming to power in May, Moon has repeatedly pledged to engage in dialogue with the North. The new attitude is not a “volte-face” from hard to soft, according to James Hannah, assistant head of the Asia program at Chatham House. “It is about engagement alongside the stronger steps we have seen – expanded U.S. sanctions for example, and the prospect of greater U.N. Security Council action, too,” Hannah told VICE News.


Moon laid out his vision for bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula during a speech in Berlin on July 6, with dialogue being a key element of his plans.

“The aim [of the talks] will be to stop the frequency of threats and tests, as Pyongyang appears to move closer and closer to achieving its nuclear aims, and is a rational move given that dialogue is now more important than ever,” Hannah said.

Seoul is suggesting that any talks be held at Tongilgak, a North Korean building in the Panmunjom compound in the demilitarized zone between the two countries, which was used to host previous discussions.

“Moon’s offer is pragmatic,” Hannah says, “and it’s acceptance or rejection will be a good indicator of the scope for decreasing tension.”

The successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile earlier this month — one that experts say could reach the U.S. — has ratcheted up tension in the region. While it was a major topic of conversation at the recent G-20 summit in Germany, there was no mention of the rogue dictatorship in the final communique from the summit.