North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has reportedly offered to hold talks with the state's Southern neighbor, marking what would be the first summit held between the two Koreas in seven years and the reclusive leader's first powwow with a foreign head of state since taking power after his father Kim Jong-il's death in 2011.
Kim's proposal to host "highest-level talks" with South Korean President Park Geun-hye was tinged with a mix of regret and sour grapes. In a New Year's address televised by state media, he began by noting the "tragic" dissection of the Korean peninsula was no longer tolerable.
"Depending on the mood and circumstances, there is no reason not to hold a high-level summit," he declared.
He went on to reproach joint US-South Korean military drills as a provocative catalyst for deepening inter-Korean tensions. "In a tense mood of such war-preparatory exercises," he said, "trust-based dialogue can't be possible, and North-South relations can't move forward."
Kim's remarks were welcomed by South Korea as "meaningful." South Korea's government had earlier this week proposed talks in January on a host of issues, including the reunion of families torn apart by the 1950-53 Korean War — which concluded with an armistice rather than peace accord — in a broader effort to kick-start the unification process for both countries.
South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae noted on Thursday that productive engagement with North Korea would have to involve "practical and frank discussions on all issues of mutual concern." "Our government hopes for dialogue between the South and North Korean authorities in the near future without limits on format," he said, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
Though Kim appears to have accepted South Korea's invitation to talk, it remains unclear where and when the proposed summit would take place, or whether any progress would be made on major sticking points between the nations, such as the North's nuclear arms and human rights abuses. The two countries are technically still at war with one another.
Park acknowledged the importance of reunification with the North in an address given at the beginning of 2014. She said reunification would bring peace and prosperity to the region, and described it as a "jackpot" for the South and all of Northeast Asia in terms of economic possibilities. The North dismissed her overture at the time, however, claiming that the idea of unification was a thinly veiled attempt to topple the communist regime in Pyongyang.
High-level talks between the rival nations were held in October after a delegation of seven senior North Korean officials paid an impromptu visit to the South during the Asian Games, but no resolutions of critical issues resulted from those discussions.
Hostilities between the two countries reignited just days later, when they exchanged gunfire across the heavily-fortified border after Southern activists released helium balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets, which drifted across the demarcation line.
The latest proposed talks could be threatened by reports that a South Korean activist intends to launch more balloons across the border — this time carrying DVDs of the Sony film The Interview, a comedy in which Kim is assassinated that has been at the center of an international controversy involving mass computer hacking and threats of retaliation. North Korea characterized the film as an act of war, while the US chief of Homeland Security described an attack of corporate espionage against Sony as "an attack on our freedom of expression and way of life."
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