WASHINGTON - South Korea said Thursday its stance on sanctions against North Korea remains unchanged, despite its efforts to improve ties with the North.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the government will keep the so-called May 24 measure, a retaliatory action taken in 2010 after the fatal sinking of a South Korean navy ship that claimed the lives of 46 sailors. The measure bans nearly all economic activities and exchange between two Koreas. A South Korea-led international investigation team accused the North of launching a torpedo attack on the ship. But Pyongyang denied involvement in the attack, and has been demanding that Seoul lift the sanction.
“Our basic position is that we are taking these actions while maintaining the basis of May 24 measure,” said spokesman for the Unification Ministry Lim Byeong-cheol, in reference to a series of conciliatory steps the government has taken toward the North recently.
The comments come as Seoul is launching an intensive campaign to reach out to Pyongyang in what it calls an “effort to recover homogeneity” between the two sides. The move coincides with the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule. Last week, Seoul announced a plan to increase humanitarian aid for Pyongyang and encourage private exchanges with the communist country. The plan will ease restrictions on local governments’ engagement with Pyongyang and allow South Korean journalists’ to visit the country. Earlier, Seoul approved a private aid group’s plan to provide fertilizer to Pyongyang, marking Seoul’s first fertilizer aid for Pyongyang after the May 24 measure was taken.
So far, Pyongyang has not been receptive to Seoul’s gestures. On Thursday, the North’s official newspaper accused the South of using dialogue to provoke the country, ruling out the possibility of the resumption of dialogue with the South. A South Korean official who asked to remain anonymous told the VOA Korean Service that Pyongyang’s stance should not be taken as a rejection of dialogue, adding it might be an attempt to boost leverage against Seoul in anticipation of future talks.
Seoul says it will continue efforts to resume inter-Korean talks despite Pyongyang’s unwillingness to engage, calling on Pyongyang to accept its offer of talks.
Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.