South Korea to hold high-level talks with the North

Jan 20 2011 - 10:41am

SEOUL -- Signaling a possible diplomatic thaw after months of tension on the Korean peninsula, South Korea on Thursday agreed to hold high-level military talks with North Korea despite a November attack by the North that killed four people on a disputed South Korean island.

Officials in Seoul announced that they would hold talks with their Northern counterparts, who in recent weeks have made several entreaties for a sit-down to discuss escalating tensions.

The apparent thaw in relations came just hours after a Washington summit Wednesday where the North's provocations and nuclear-weapons program were discussed and President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao urged the two Koreas to resume dialogue.

In a dispatch to the South Korean capital early Thursday, Pyongyang suggested ministerial-level talks to discuss "pending" military issues between the two sides. It remained unclear late Thursday whether top leaders from either side would be involved in the discussions.

The apparent breakthrough came after North Korea reportedly agreed to Seoul's longstanding demands to discuss the torpedoing of a South Korean warship in March that killed 46 crewmen, according to South Korean press reports. Seoul has blamed the North, which has denied responsibility.

Also up for discussion will be the North's artillery shelling of the Southern-controlled Yeonpyeong island. South Korea also has proposed that the talks include the prospect of the North abandoning its burgeoning nuclear program.

"The South Korean government will come to the talks to ask North Korea to take responsible measures for the torpedoing of the Cheonan and the artillery attacks on Yeonpyeong and promise not to conduct further military provocation in the future," a South Korean government official told the South's Yonhap news agency.

Since the first of the year, Pyongyang has made repeated requests for talks, which have been dismissed in Seoul as insincere propaganda and a blatant ploy for aid in a country that in recent years has faced repeated winter starvation among its populace.

South Korean media on Thursday reported that, according to the North's most recent proposal, Seoul was encouraged to choose a time and place for the talks.

The Obama administration has stressed that such a dialogue between Seoul and Pyongyang was required before the U.S. would support the resumption of the so-called six-party talks -- involving the U.S., South Korea, Japan, China and Russia -- to denuclearize North Korea, a development that would result in sizable economic aid to the ailing North Korea.

North Korea quit the talks in 2009.

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