News / Asia

South Korea Tells North Door to Dialogue Remains Open

South Korean soldiers watch South Korean President Lee Myung-bak speaking to the nation during his New Year's speech,  Jan. 3, 2011.
South Korean soldiers watch South Korean President Lee Myung-bak speaking to the nation during his New Year's speech, Jan. 3, 2011.

Both Koreas are starting off 2011 expressing a desire for dialogue to ease tensions.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak says his country needs to strengthen security in the wake of last year’s aggression by North Korea. But, in his new year policy address Monday, Mr. Lee also promised help for the North, under the right conditions.

He says the door is still open for inter-Korean dialogue. And Seoul will offer economic support if Pyongyang demonstrates that it is serious about talks.

But Mr. Lee also reiterated a vow to retaliate for any further provocations that threaten South Korean lives or property.

In its official new year’s message, Pyongyang called for talks after soaring tensions in 2010.

There is speculation the  six-nation talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear program will revive this year.

The U.S. envoy expected to lead Washington’s team to the talks meets with South Korean officials in Seoul Tuesday. Stephen Bosworth will then visit Beijing and Tokyo.

North Korea in 2009 announced it would not return to the nuclear talks, which began in 2003, and ordered U.N. inspectors to leave the country. It conducted a second nuclear weapons test a month later.

A former U.S. State Department adviser on North Korea, Balbina Hwang, says the current diplomacy appears to be leading to a re-start of the talks.

Hwang said, "I'm surprised to hear myself say that there might, in fact, be very well a meeting of the six-party talks. That does not mean that, I think, there will be much progress made at those talks toward de-nuclearization. And, I think, it's, in a way, seen as a method of defusing tensions by all sides, frankly, at very little cost to most countries."

The South Korean JoongAng daily newspaper Monday predicted that the leaders of the United States and China will agree to resume the talks at their summit meeting later this month in Washington.

Tensions soared to their highest level in decades on the Korean peninsula last year. North Korea was blamed for sinking a South Korean navy ship in March, killing 46 sailors. Seven months later the North shelled a South Korean island, killing four people.

The two Koreas have no diplomatic relations. Peace on the peninsula has been kept under a armistice signed in 1953 following a devastating 3-year war.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

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