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South Korea Proposes Talks With North

FILE - South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae speaks during a news conference at Government Complex in Seoul, South Korea.
FILE - South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae speaks during a news conference at Government Complex in Seoul, South Korea.

South Korea on Monday proposed restarting a dialogue with North Korea on issues of mutual concern, such as reuniting families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. This outreach to the North comes at a time of growing antagonism between Pyongyang and the West over issues of cyberattacks and human rights abuses.

Rather than argue over what divides them, South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae has reached out to North Korea to talk about the issues that unite them.

He said the Unification Preparatory Committee officially proposes to hold talks in January on mutual concerns between the two Koreas.

In the last year, Pyongyang’s relationship with Seoul and its key ally Washington has grown increasingly contentious. Most recently there have been accusations and counter-accusations of cyberattacks. South Korea blamed the North for a hack attack at its nuclear power plants. U.S. officials say Pyongyang hacked into a U.S. movie studio's files to try to stop the release of a comedy about the fictional assassination of Kim Jong Un. North Korea responded by denying the charges, accusing the U.S. of disrupting the internet in the North and crudely comparing President Barack Obama to a monkey.

At the same time, the international community has increased pressure on Pyongyang to address its dismal human rights record after detailing a network of political prisons and atrocities that include murder, torture, and rape.

And there has been virtually no progress on restarting talks to both curb North Korea’s nuclear program and lift U.N. economic sanctions.

The South Korean unification minister’s proposal aims to decrease tensions by cooperating on projects where there is already broad agreement. He mentioned reuniting families separated during the war, expanding cultural and sports exchanges and preparing a celebration to mark the 70th anniversary of liberation from Japan after World War II.

Military analyst Shin In-kyun, with the Korea Defense Network, supports this modest proposal as a way of getting the two Koreas to talk about cooperation rather than confrontation.

He said even though relations between the United States and North Korea are tense and there are various issues to be solved between them, he thinks the talks between the two Koreas are appropriate, as the South should not cease communications with the North.

Earlier in 2014, planned talks between the two Koreas were canceled after an armed skirmish at the border as activists in the South launched balloons full of anti-Pyongyang leaflets into the North.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is also expected to address inter-Korean ties and relations with the United States in his annual New Year’s message.

VOA News Producer in Seoul Youmi Kim contributed to this report.