Seoul calls for Pyongyang to respond to overture for talks

Seoul calls for Pyongyang to respond to overture for talks

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea on Friday urged North Korea to accept its offers for talks as Pyongyang continued to ignore Seoul's proposal for a military meeting to ease animosities along their tense border.

South Korea's Defense Ministry said it has become difficult to hold the meeting Seoul had originally proposed for Friday and called for the North to "quickly accept" the overture for talks.

"Easing the military tension between the South and North and restoring the military dialogue channel are very urgent tasks for peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula," the ministry said in a statement.

North Korea has yet to respond to South Korea's proposal to hold the military meeting and a separate meeting next month to resume the temporary reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

If realized, the talks would be the first inter-Korean dialogue since December 2015. Ties between the Koreas have worsened since over North Korea's expanding nuclear and missile programs, but South Korea's new liberal President Moon Jae-in, who took office in May, has expressed a desire to reach out to the North.

Despite North Korea apparently passing over the Friday meeting, some experts say North Korea is likely to agree to the military talks at some point as it has been calling for the suspension of loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts at the border the two Koreas began after the North's fourth nuclear test in January 2016. It's possible that the North is taking time mulling its options and could potentially make a counter-proposal seeking more concessions from the South in exchange for opening dialogue, the experts say.

The prospects for a Red Cross meeting on the family reunions are murkier as the North has been tying the issue to its demands for the South to send back 12 women and their male manager who worked at a North Korean-run restaurant China before defecting to the South last year. Pyongyang, which often makes extreme claims over defectors, has insisted that the workers were abducted to the South, an accusation Seoul denies.

"The government proposed the military and Red Cross meeting because it considered peace in the Korean Peninsula and humanitarian issues as urgent," said Eugene Lee, a spokeswoman at Seoul's Unification Ministry. "We need to remain calm and take one step forward at a time, without fretting too much about how the North reacts each time."

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