Asia Pacific / Politics

South Korea's Park ready to meet North's Kim without conditions

Bloomberg

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said she is willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and the country’s nuclear weapons program wouldn’t be an obstacle to holding the first Korean summit since 2007.

“There are no preconditions,” including nuclear disarmament, for a summit between the two countries, Park said Monday at a televised news conference, warning Kim should drop his nuclear pursuit in order to achieve an eventual unification.

Park also urged the North Korean leader to agree to resume the reunions of families that remain separated more than 60 years after the end of the civil war that left the peninsula divided.

Relations on the Korean Peninsula have been complicated by Pyongyang’s push to develop nuclear weapons and its threats to use them against Seoul. In recent months there have been some signs of easing tensions. In October, North Korea sent three members of Kim’s inner circle to meet with Park’s chief security adviser. That led to the first talks between their military generals since 2007.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Saturday that the country could suspend nuclear tests if the U.S. stopped joint military exercises in South Korea. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the offer “inappropriate,” saying in an emailed statement that another test would be a violation of the North’s obligations under United Nations Security Council resolutions and a 2005 agreement as part of six-nation disarmament talks.

South Korea has said the North must end its pursuit of nuclear arms and acknowledge it attacked the South’s Cheonan warship in 2010, among other concessions, before it can resume large-scale economic assistance seen under former President Roh Moo-hyun. Roh participated in the last summit when he met Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, in Pyongyang in October 2007, a year after the North conducted its first successful nuclear test.

Park has repeatedly called on Kim to embrace her idea of building a joint peace park inside the demilitarized zone since taking office in February 2013. Last year she started a government campaign to prepare for unification, saying that it could be an economic “bonanza” for both nations, even as a declining number of South Koreans view it as necessary.

Park also said Monday that she had yet to see “The Interview” — the Hollywood comedy about a CIA plot to assassinate Kim.

The Seth Rogen film, which triggered a hacking attack on Sony Pictures blamed by U.S. authorities on North Korea, will not be released in South Korean cinemas, but is available online.

“I haven’t seen it yet,” Park said at the news conference. “But I have learned the gist of the story from the media.”

The United States insists North Korea, which had fiercely condemned the movie before its release, was behind a devastating cyberattack on the studio behind the film, Sony Pictures, and slapped additional sanctions on Pyongyang in response.

Park described the U.S. countermeasure as “very appropriate” and argued that the North had only itself to blame.

“North Korea provided the reason for the United States to take that action,” she said.

“The Interview” has become Sony’s best-grossing online film ever, making more than $31 million on the Internet and other small-screen formats.

According to the Seoul-based, defector-run website Daily NK, North Korea has tightened surveillance on smugglers to ensure no DVD or flash-drive copies of the film make it inside the country.

“No one knows what will happen if you’re caught watching a movie about the assassination of (Kim Jong Un), but you may be executed as an example,” the website cited one source inside North Korea as saying.

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