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North, South Korea Offer Proposals to Reduce Tensions

South Korean President Park Geun-hye speaks during her New Year's press conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul Monday, Jan. 12, 2015.

North and South Korean leaders are proposing different approaches to reduce the potential for military conflict in the region. Given the level of mistrust between Pyongyang and the West, both proposals face significant opposition.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said Monday she is ready to meet with her North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un without any preconditions.

North Korea should not hesitate anymore, she said, but should instead come forward for dialogue.

President Park said she would like to restart the process of engagement and rebuilding trust by initially focusing on issues where there is already broad agreement.

She said she hopes for South Korea and North Korea to open the door for reunification by discussing the issue of divided families, improvement of quality of North Koreans’ lives and the recovery of national identity.

Open to dialogue

In his New Year’s message, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also indicated he is open to dialogue, if the right atmosphere and environment is created. But Pyongyang has refused to engage with the South until and unless Seoul stops groups of activists from launching balloons full of anti-North Korean leaflets across the border.

On that issue, President Park was somewhat vague. She said that although the basic right of freedom of expression must be protected, the government can request that these groups refrain from their activities for public safety reasons.

However, she also defended the need for the South’s controversial National Security Law, which has been used to arrest people seen as making sympathetic comments about the North and restrict discussion about the South’s policies on Pyongyang.

North Korea has made its own proposal for reducing regional tension by offering a moratorium on nuclear tests in exchange for an end to joint U.S.-South Korean military drills. The U.S. and South Korea rejected this proposal, saying it was an implied threat. North Korea is already under U.N. sanctions for conducting banned nuclear tests in the past.

Offer rejected

Korea analyst John Delury with Yonsei University in Seoul is surprised that North Korea’s offer was so quickly rejected.

“This is the kind of starting point you have to look for. You are not going to get Pyongyang to say, ‘Okay, we give up. Here is all the plutonium and uranium. Let’s call it a day.’ You have to work in a painful step-by-step way,” said Delury.

Delury said these proposals can lead to constructive dialogue but only if there is the political will on all sides to work towards a peaceful solution.

Washington’s position has been to demand that Pyongyang first take action to curb its nuclear program before any talks can resume.

The U.S. recently imposed new sanctions on Pyongyang over the alleged North Korean hacking of a movie studio that released a comedy about the assassination of leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea has denied responsibility for the cyberattacks.

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