North Korea attaches the usual preconditions to dialogue invites
On June 15, the day marking the 15th anniversary of the historic summit between President Kim Dae-jung and North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, Pyongyang offered dialogue with Seoul. However, in a typical North Korean fashion, several preconditions were attached to the offer.
As usual, the North demanded the suspension of the joint South Korean-U. S. military exercises. It also demanded an end to the “slander” against the North as well as the removal of legal and institutional mechanisms that stand in the way of inter-Korea exchanges and cooperation.
The Unification Ministry responded to the North Korean statement by saying that Pyongyang should come to the dialogue table without preconditions. It also urged the North to end provocative actions that raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The North Korean leadership should be reminded that its words and actions do not match, making its offer of dialogue less than credible. The day before the latest proposal, North Korea testfired three short-range missiles into the East Sea — a clear provocation by any standards. On Tuesday, the KCNA also reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observed nighttime firing drills by navy ships and ground artillery subunits. While the report did not specify the date of the exercise, it is thought to have taken place in the early hours of Monday before the dialogue offer was made.
Pyongyang’s two-faced offer of dialogue could perhaps be explained by the two different needs it is trying to meet. The frequent show of military might, with North Korea’s young leader often shown at the scene, may be largely designed for the domestic audience and intended to demonstrate that Kim is firmly in charge. On the other hand, North Korea, which has been subjected to protracted international sanctions, needs to come out of its isolation. At a time when ties with traditional allies China and Russia are not at their best, Pyongyang’s isolation is undoubtedly acutely felt by the North Korean leadership. It is against such a background that Pyongyang is reaching out to Seoul with an offer of dialogue.
Inter-Korean relations have been deadlocked for quite some time. The last round of formal high-level talks was held in February 2014 and led to a reunion of separated families that month, the first such reunion in three years. Rather than snub Pyongyang’s latest dialogue offer, Seoul could give it positive consideration. North Koreans do not make the best dialogue partners, but continued engagement is preferable to continued tensions. This is an editorial published by The Korea Herald on June 17.