South Korea offers dialogue with the North to ease border tensions

If President Moon's overture to the North is successful, it will be the first family reunion talks since 2015.

Ahn Young-joon/AP
South Korean Army soldiers walk by military vehicles deployed in the Korean War era at Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea on July 17, 2017.

South Korea on Monday offered talks with North Korea to ease animosities along their tense border and resume reunions of families separated by their war in the 1950s.

It was unclear how North Korea will react since it remains suspicious of new South Korean President Moon Jae-in's outreach to it. But Mr. Moon's overture, the first formal offer of talks since his inauguration in May, indicates he wants to use dialogue to defuse the international standoff over North Korea's weapons programs, despite having condemned the North's first intercontinental ballistic missile test on July 4 and vowed a firm response.

If realized, the talks would be the first inter-Korean dialogue since December 2015. Ties between the Koreas have plunged over the North's expanding missile and nuclear programs and the hard-line policies of Moon's conservative predecessors.

South Korean Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo Suk proposed on Monday that defense officials from the two Koreas hold talks at the border village of Panmunjom on Friday on how to end hostile activities along the border. South Korean acting Red Cross chief Kim Sun Hyang told a news conference that it wants separate talks at the border village on Aug. 1 to discuss family reunions.

North Korea's state media didn't immediately respond to South Korea's proposals. But analysts say North Korea may accept the defense talks because it wants the South Korean Army to halt loudspeaker broadcasts at the border that began after North Korea's fourth nuclear test in January 2016. Prospects for talks on family reunions are less good because North Korea has previously demanded that South Korea repatriate some North Korean defectors living in the South before any reunions take place, according to the analysts.

Earlier this month, Moon said in a speech in Germany that he's willing to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if certain conditions are met. Moon also said the two Koreas must halt hostile activities along the border, restart family reunions, and cooperate on the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Moon has said he will use both dialogue and pressure to resolve the standoff over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. But he has achieved little progress, with North Korea test-firing a series of newly developed missiles.

North Korea is believed to possess hundreds of missiles capable of striking South Korea and Japan. It recent test of an ICBM put it one step closer to its goal of developing nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching anywhere in the United States.

After the ICBM launch, Kim said he would never negotiate over his weapons programs as long as US hostility and nuclear threats persist.

The two Koreas have been divided since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea.

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