South Korean officials said on Monday that they will not agree to North Korea’s demands for lifting sanctions and halting U.S.-Korea joint military exercises in order for inter-Korea talks to resume, emphasizing that any terms to be discussed will be held when and if the talks do happen.
"Our government is not considering taking preemptive action toward those preconditions in order to coax the North to the negotiating table," unification ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said in a briefing, according to Korean news agency Yonhap. "Those preconditions are issues that North Korea should resolve through discussion with our government."
Seoul had requested for Pyongyang to attend an inter-Korea dialogue during the Lunar New Year holiday season, which falls on mid-February. Discussions would include how to improve cross-border relations as well as other issues such as North Korea’s nuclear program and human rights record. The two countries technically remain at war, having never resolved their disputes since the civil war in 1950-53.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un first gave official indication in his New Year address that he was amenable to such talks, but the North Korean government issued a statement saying that South Korea must first lift its imposed sanctions and halt its annual U.S.-Korea joint military exercises, scheduled for March, before the talks can happen. Pyongyang refers specifically to the May 24 sanctions Seoul imposed on the North after North Korean navy ships allegedly fired a torpedo at a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors. Pyongyang denies the allegations.
"If South Korea is sincerely interested in holding the family reunion event, it should first make decisions, including lifting the sanctions and suspending the war practice to invade the North," said Pyongyang's state-run newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun on Monday, according to the Korea Times. The paper also reported that the communist state even warned on Sunday of "stern punishment" and accused the South of failing to forge "even the basic mood" to moving the discussions along.
South Korea’s foreign ministry, however, has emphasized its commitment this year to creating a “virtuous circle” among traditional allies involved in removing nuclear weapons from North Korea and improving inter-Korean ties. "South Korea will spearhead efforts to launch the six-party talks for North Korea's complete denuclearization," a Seoul foreign ministry official said to Yonhap, referring to the abandoned 2008 attempts between the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea to work with the North on tackling those issues.