South Korea says its position on North Korean sanctions has not changed despite speculation that Seoul might consider lifting its unilateral sanctions against Pyongyang.
An official in Seoul who did not want to be named told reporters Tuesday that the South's position is consistent with remarks made Monday by President Park Geun-hye.
The South Korean president said her government is open to the idea that the North and South try to resolve the issue through dialogue.
Park’s comments, her first direct mention of the issue, triggered debate over the question of whether Seoul should lift sanctions to improve relations with Pyongyang. Some observers speculated that Park was poised to take the action.
Another South Korean official who also wanted to remain anonymous told VOA's Korean service Park is showing sincerity not only in her willingness to engage with North Korea, but in urging Pyongyang to show a genuine intention to have substantial dialogue.
The so-called May 24 sanctions are measures that Seoul took in 2010 after the fatal sinking of its navy ship, which claimed the lives of 46 sailors. The measures ban all inter-Korean trade and investment activities except those inside the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
Recently, Pyongyang has linked lifting the sanctions to progress on inter-Korean relations.
This month, a high-ranking North Korean delegation made a surprise visit to the South and agreed to resume a high-level dialogue that has been stalled since February. The fate of the talks, however, has been put in doubt.
Shortly after the visit, South and North Korean navy patrol boats exchanged fire at the Northern Limit Line, a boundary drawn by the United Nations that serves as the maritime border between the two countries. Late last week, the North targeted balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets. The incident led to gunfire between the two Koreas, but no one was injured.
North Korean studies professor Koh Yoo-hwan at the Seoul-based Donggook University said the sanctions are not in line with the president’s Dresden Declaration. “The May 24 sanctions make it difficult for Park to execute plans explained in her Dresden Declaration,” Koh explained.
In late March, President Park made an official visit to Germany and unveiled her government’s roadmap for reunification. In her landmark speech given at the former East German city of Dresden, she made a three-point proposal to North Korea for the “humanity, co-prosperity, and integration” of the two Koreas.
The South Korean public seems to favor engagement with the North despite the tensions. In a recent poll, only one out of four South Koreans is against lifting the May 24 sanctions on the North. In the same poll, eight out of 10 South Koreans said President Park should have a summit with the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un.
Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.