(LEAD) S. Korea to seek normalization of relations with N. Korea this year: unification ministry
(ATTN: UPDATES with unification minister’s remarks in paras 7, 8; CHANGES photos; ADDS byline)
By Kim Soo-yeon
SEOUL, Jan. 27 (Yonhap) — South Korea will push to “normalize” inter-Korean relations this year by seeking to make both “direct and indirect” contact with North Korea, including supporting civilian exchanges, Seoul’s unification ministry said Friday.
In its report to President Yoon Suk Yeol on major tasks for 2023, the ministry handling inter-Korean affairs laid out seven key policy objectives focused on improving frosty ties with the North and laying the groundwork for reunification.
While the South will sternly counter North Korea’s provocations through cooperation based on the strong Seoul-Washington alliance, the government will also make efforts to restart inter-Korean dialogue this year.
The government plans to “seek direct and indirect contact with North Korea through civic groups and international organizations in a bid to open up chances to improve strained inter-Korean ties,” the ministry said.
If inter-Korean dialogues restart, the ministry plans to put its priority on addressing issues stemming from the Koreas’ division, such as families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War and South Koreans detained in the North.
Inter-Korean relations remain frayed as the North has spurned Seoul’s offer for dialogue and instead focused on advancing missile and nuclear programs.
Unification Minister Kwon Young-se said his ministry is not considering making a new offer of talks to Pyongyang, although it remains willing to resume dialogue at any time.
“It is important for North Korea to come back to dialogue with sincerity,” he said at a press briefing following the report to the president.
The ministry also said it plans to draw up a new mid-and long-term blueprint on inter-Korean unification, tentatively named the “New Future Initiative on Unification.”
The vision is aimed at paving the groundwork for a peaceful unification based on freedom and the democratic value espoused by the Yoon administration.
The government aims to announce the new vision within this year after fleshing it out based on opinions from experts and the general public.
In regard to North Korea’s human rights issues, the ministry said it plans to carry out the work of an envisioned foundation on the North’s rights situations until it sets sail.
The creation of the North Korean Human Rights Foundation has been delayed for years, as the main opposition party, which holds a majority of seats at the National Assembly, has not recommended its share of five candidates for a 12-member board committee.
The ministry will also make public its annual report on the North’s human rights records for the first time in March. The report will be issued in both Korean and English-language versions.
On the issue of opening the door to North Korean broadcasts and media outlets, the government is considering allowing people to read the Rodong Sinmun, the North’s main newspaper, at designated facilities. Online access to the paper will not be allowed.
The ministry earlier said it will push for the lifting of a ban on public access to North Korean broadcasts, media and publications in an effort to restore “national homogeneity” between the Koreas.