South Korea offers talks with North Korea to discuss reunion of War-separated families

This is its first direct overture since President Yoon Suk-Yeol took office in May

SEOUL

On Thursday, South Korea offered talks with North Korea to discuss a reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War — its first direct overture, since President Yoon Suk-Yeol took office in May.

Unification Minister Kwon Young-Se, who is in charge of inter-Korean affairs, held a briefing to make the offer, saying that Seoul would consider Pyongyang’s preferences in deciding the date, venue, agenda and format of the talks.

“We hope that responsible officials of the two sides will meet in person as soon as possible for a candid discussion on humanitarian matters including the issue of separated families,” Kwon said.

The two Koreas have held family reunions around major holidays, mostly under liberal governments in the South, which sought to re-engage the North, and provide food and other handouts.

The surprise proposal came days before the thanksgiving holiday of Chuseok, but prospects remain unpromising — given testy cross-border ties — with the North racing to beef up its weapons arsenals.

Kim Yo-Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, said last month Yoon ought to “shut his mouth”, after he had reiterated his plan to provide economic aid, in return for nuclear disarmament.

When asked about the possibility of food aid, Kwon said that his government was not considering “special incentives”, and the North was to respond, in order to address humanitarian matters.

Even if Pyongyang rejected his offer, Seoul would “continuously make proposals”, Kwon added.

Lim Eul-Chul, a professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University, said that chances were extremely low that the North would accept the offer, citing its recent comments on Yoon.

“Family reunions is a basic humanitarian issue, but in reality, it requires a substantial level of trust between both sides,” he said.

Yoon, who took office in May, has unveiled what he called an “audacious” plan to provide economic aid in return for nuclear disarmament, but said he would respond sternly to the North’s provocations.

The last round of family reunions took place in 2018, when Yoon’s liberal predecessor held summits with Kim and tried to broker a peace agreement between Pyongyang and Washington.

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