South Korea unimpressed with Pyongyang’s dialogue offer

AFP-JIJI

South Korea on Monday brushed off an apparent offer by North Korea to resume nuclear disarmament talks, and chided Pyongyang for a recent personal attack on President Park Geun-hye.

“Actions are more important than words,” Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-seok said of the offer contained in a letter delivered Friday by an envoy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Chinese state media said the letter cited the North’s willingness to resume the stalled six-party talks on denuclearization involving China, the two Koreas, the U.S., Russia and Japan.

The reported message was greeted with skepticism in South Korea, where observers saw it as an effort to appease Beijing rather than a genuine signal of intent.

North Korea has repeatedly declared that its program to develop a viable nuclear deterrent is not open to negotiation. Seoul and Washington, meanwhile, insist the North must demonstrate its commitment to abandoning its nuclear weapons program before formal talks can begin.

The North Korean state media’s coverage of envoy Choe Ryong Hae’s visit to China made no mention of a dialogue proposal. Of the letter handed to Xi, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said only that it conveyed Kim’s desire to deepen the “traditional friendship” between North Korea and China.

China is North Korea’s key economic benefactor and diplomatic protector, but it signed off on U.N. sanctions punishing Pyongyang for its nuclear test in February.

In Seoul, the Unification Ministry said the North needs to get its priorities straight, and it criticized Pyongyang for a “two-faced” invitation sent to a left-wing citizens’ group in the South.

“If the North genuinely wants dialogue, the first step should be responding to our repeated call for working-level governmental talks on the Kaesong industrial complex,” the spokesman said.

Kaesong was the most high-profile victim of two months of elevated military tensions that followed the North’s nuclear test.

Established just north of the border in 2004 as a rare symbol of cooperation, the showpiece project had more than 120 South Korean firms employing some 53,000 North Korean workers.

The North barred South Korean access to the zone and pulled out its workers in early April. Seoul withdrew the last of its nationals early this month.

The South has called for talks on securing the raw materials and products stocks left by the departing South Korean managers, but the North has so far refused. The Unification Ministry also criticized the North for a recent personal attack on Park in which it labeled South Korea’s first female president a “confrontation maniac.”

“For the sake of healthy inter-Korea relations, the North needs to control and restrain itself . . . and immediately stop such remarks that are too unspeakable for us to quote here,” spokesman Kim said.