S. Korea: N. Korea holds key to military talks

By Yonhap
  • Published : Feb 13, 2018 - 14:34
  • Updated : Feb 13, 2018 - 14:34

South Korea's defense ministry said Tuesday it's still waiting for North Korea's response to its months-old offer of military talks, maintaining its strategic ambiguity about the future of joint war games with the United States.

"We are making preparations" for the talks, although no specific schedule has been set yet, the ministry's spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo said at a press briefing.

She added the inter-Korean military hotline is in normal operation, but there's no communication on the agreed-upon military dialogue.

The two sides agreed to resume military talks during a recent contact on the North's participation in the Winter Olympics under way in PyeongChang, an eastern town in the South.

South Korean defense ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo speaks at a press briefing in this undated file photo. (Yonhap)

When the South's military suggested such a meeting in July last year, the communist neighbor was unresponsive.

Defense officials here said the offer remains valid, pressing the North's military to send a message on the issue.

For now, the ministry has no plan to renew the dialogue offer, Choi said.

Her comments came amid keen attention to whether and how the two Koreas will keep the rare mood of reconciliation alive.

President Moon Jae-in had four rounds of meetings with Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of the North's leader Kim Jong-un, who stayed in the South for three days as a member of an official delegation to the Olympics.

She introduced herself as her brother's special envoy and extended an invitation to Moon to visit Pyongyang for what would be the first inter-Korean summit since 2007. Moon sidestepped an immediate reply, partly in consideration of ideological rifts at home over ways to deal with the North.

The North's state media were quick to report that Kim Jong-un was pleased with the results of the delegation's trip here.

He then "set forth in detail the orientation of the improvement of the North-South relations," the Korean Central News Agency said without elaborating. 

The North's aggressive diplomatic offensive left Moon and his aides busy crafting a strategy on inter-Korean ties that can satisfy both Pyongyang and Washington.

An official at the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae said that the first future step will likely be the resumption of working-level military talks.

The Trump administration welcomed warming ties between the two Koreas but also cautioned against the nuclear-armed North's intentions behind the charm offensive.

For Moon, a liberal president, it's also politically burdensome to push for another inter-Korean summit with no guarantee on a tangible outcome.

Many observers say the North's aim is to break its isolation, drive a wedge between the allies, and buy time to further advance its nuclear and missile capabilities.

A key test is the Seoul-Washington coordination on the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle combined military exercises held annually in the spring.

They postponed the opening of the drills until after the end of the PyeongChang Olympics and Paralympic Games in March.

There's media-driven speculation that the South may seek to further delay it in a bid to maintain momentum in inter-Korean relations.

The South's Ministry of National Defense remained guarded about the matter.

"We will make an announcement at an appropriate time when it's decided," Choi said. (Yonhap)