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Seoul to Push `Grand Bargain` at Inter-Korean Talks

Posted October. 14, 2009 04:47,   


South Korea plans to stabilize inter-Korean relations by persuading North Korea to agree to the “grand bargain” initiative of President Lee Myung-bak. The grand bargain proposes massive aid and security guarantees to Pyongyang in return for the communist regime’s scrapping of its nuclear program.

The North apparently wants to show the international community that it wants to respond to inevitable requests from the South, such as an apology for discharging water in the Imjin River last month that killed six South Koreans, in expectation of aid from Seoul.

On the working-level inter-Korean talks this week, a South Korean official said, “We haven’t coordinated the schedule completely with the North, but did have a degree of consensus before starting the project.”

That means the two parties have agreed on the necessity and timing of the bilateral talks through various channels.

In the process, both sides agreed on a “bottom-up” approach that solves practical pending issues first and seeks a higher level of talks, instead of a “top-down” approach that covers practical issues all at once through a high-level meeting such as a summit or ministerial dialogue.

Both Koreas apparently seek practical ways to advance ties at a time when the North’s nuclear program has not been addressed.

○ Ball in North Korea’s court

The working-level talks are in line with inter-Korean contacts that have continued since August. South Korean authorities say advancement in bilateral relations depends on the North.

First, the key is to what extent the North will accept the South’s offer. If Pyongyang extends a heartfelt apology for the deadly release of water from its Hwanggang Dam last month and allows the South to use the Imjin River in the talks, inter-Korean relations will take a step further.

Seoul anticipates that Pyongyang can positively respond to proposals on ways to implement three principles to handle problems in a humanitarian manner, such as making reunions of separated Korean families a regular event and releasing South Korean POWs in the North.

In return, Pyongyang is likely to ask for humanitarian food aid in the working-level talks Friday.

A South Korean official said, “South Korea’s agenda at the Red Cross working-level talks do not include food assistance to the North, but we can consider it if the North proposes.”

Seoul will reportedly consider a small amount of food aid if Pyongyang accepts most of its requests.