The timing is widely interpreted in South Korea as a dividend of Chinese pressure to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula – and the meeting this week between President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao.
South Korean Army via Yonhap/AP
Seoul, South Korea
Hours after President Obama and China’s President Hu Jintao called for “sincere and constructive inter-Korean dialogue, North Korea's highest defense official messaged South Korea’s defense minister proposing talks on “military issues.”
The North Korean message and South Korean response do not necessarily mean a breakthrough, say analysts here, but they represent another step away from the atmosphere of confrontation and brinksmanship after the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island in November.
The message, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry, indicated North Korea’s willingness to discuss such “provocations” as the shelling of the island and the sinking of a South Korean Navy ship in nearby waters in March. All told, 50 people died in those attacks – two Marines, two civilians on the island, and 46 sailors on the ship.
South Korea, promptly accepting the proposal for talks by Kim Young-chun, who is minister of the People’s Armed Forces, said the South would use the talks to “ask North Korea to take responsible measures” for last year’s attacks. An official at the South’s Unification Ministry said the South would propose separate talks between high-ranking officials on denuclearization – that is, the basic inter-Korean talks that the South has long demanded as a prelude to six-party talks.
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