AP

S. Korea to support civilian aid to North in hopes of talks

Jan 26, 2023, 11:50 AM | Updated: Jan 27, 2023, 1:53 am

South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Youngse speaks during news conference at the Government Comp...

South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Youngse speaks during news conference at the Government Complex in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. South Korea’s government said Friday it will promote civilian efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea in hopes of softening a diplomatic freeze deepened by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s growing nuclear ambitions. (Hwang Gwang-mo/Yonhap via AP)

(Hwang Gwang-mo/Yonhap via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s government said Friday it will promote civilian efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea in hopes of softening a diplomatic freeze deepened by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s growing nuclear ambitions.

South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Youngse didn’t specify the type of aid he sees as conceivable or whether it was realistic to expect those exchanges to induce meaningful diplomatic breakthroughs.

North Korea has suspended virtually all cooperation with rival South Korea since the collapse of its nuclear negotiations with the United States in 2019 over disagreements in exchanging the release of U.S.-led sanctions and steps to cut back its nuclear weapons and missiles program.

Kim further ramped up tensions in 2022, test-firing more than 70 missiles, including potentially nuclear-capable weapons of various ranges targeting South Korea and the continental United States.

Kim punctuated his testing activity with provocative statements that North Korea would preemptively use its nukes in crisis situations against South Korea or the U.S., as the allies revived their large-scale military exercises — which had been downsized in recent years — to counter the North’s growing threat.

While ignoring South Korean calls for talks, the North has ridiculed President Yoon Suk Yeol’s offer for economic benefits in exchange for denuclearization steps, accusing Seoul of recycling “foolish” proposals Pyongyang already rejected.

Kwon’s news conference Friday was to address reporters on the ministry’s policy plans for 2023. But the dearth of new ideas for reviving dialogue underscored how rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula have sidelined a ministry dedicated to improving relations with the North and promoting an eventual peaceful unification.

Although South Korea’s current priority is to maintain a strengthened defense posture against the North in conjunction with its alliance with the United States, it’s also critical to make consistent efforts to revive an atmosphere for dialogue, Kwon said.

“To reopen a path for dialogue amid tightly strained South-North relations and to build trust between the South and North, even if it’s little by little, we will support the efforts of civilian organizations to resume contact with North Korea and also try to broaden contact through international organizations,” said Kwon.

Kwon said that South Korea has not made any new offers for inter-Korean government talks after North Korea ignored repeated calls for meetings in 2022.

The South had proposed talks in May to set up Southern provisions of vaccines and other COVID-19 supplies after the North acknowledged an outbreak. The North was unresponsive again in September, when the South called for a meeting to arrange reunions of families separated since the 1950-53 Korean War ahead of that month’s Chuseok holidays, the Korean Thanksgiving.

The reunions of those families, as well as the issue of bringing back South Korean civilians who remain detained by the North, would be prioritized if talks between the Koreas do resume, Kwon said.

Kwon said the ministry also plans to update South Korea’s long-term vision for an eventual unification with North Korea to reflect recent changes in global geopolitics and help maintain the South Korean public’s support for a future combined statehood, which weakened in recent years amid the North’s nuclear push.

The “New Future Initiative on Unification” will be released by the end of the year after an opinion-gathering process, the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said it will also publicize annual reports on North Korea’s human rights record starting in March to raise awareness on the issue.

During an interview with The Associated Press this month, Yoon reiterated his plans to provide economic assistance to North Korea if it shows sincere commitment toward abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

Yoon said he isn’t demanding North Korea to completely denuclearize upfront, but appeared to set a high bar for talks, citing inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency as an example of the steps the North should take in order to receive economic benefits.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Image: Members of the Makah Indian tribe paddle away from the rising sun as they head from Neah Bay...

Associated Press

Washington’s Makah Tribe clears major hurdle toward resuming traditional whale hunts

The U.S. granted the Makah Indian Tribe a long-sought waiver that helps clear the way for its first sanctioned whale hunts since 1999.

20 hours ago

jerry west...

Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press

Jerry West, a 3-time Hall of Fame selection and the NBA logo, dies at 86

Jerry West, a three-time Basketball Hall of Fame inductee whose silhouette is considered to be the basis of the NBA logo, died Wednesday morning.

2 days ago

Photo: Construction vehicles are parked outside of the Station U & O building on Tuesday, June 11, ...

Haleluya Hadero, The Associated Press

Amazon adds $1.4B to affordable housing fund for regions where it has corporate offices

Amazon is adding $1.4B to a fund for building more affordable housing in regions where the company has major corporate offices.

3 days ago

hunter biden...

Randall Chase and the Associated Press

Hunter Biden convicted of all 3 felony charges in federal gun trial

Hunter Biden has been convicted of all three felony charges related to the purchase of a revolver in 2018, but no sentencing date was set.

3 days ago

Photo: A Bremerton man who made 20 "swatting" calls around the U.S. and in Canada, prompting real e...

Associated Press

Bremerton man sentenced for 20 ‘swatting’ calls of false threats in US, Canada

A Bremerton man who made 20 "swatting" calls around the U.S. and in Canada, prompting real emergency responses, has been sentenced.

4 days ago

Image: U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, speaks with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zele...

Associated Press

Ukraine uses US weapons to strike inside Russia, a Western official tells AP

Ukraine has used U.S weapons to strike inside Russia in recent days, according to a Western official familiar with the matter told the AP.

9 days ago

S. Korea to support civilian aid to North in hopes of talks