Amid hacking tensions, S Korea proposes resuming talks with North

SEOUL — South Korea proposed yesterday to resume stalled talks with North Korea, an overture that comes amid heightened diplomatic tension after Seoul’s key ally, the United States, blamed the North for a cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Seoul’s Unification Minister said the South had sent a letter to Pyongyang seeking negotiations, which it hopes to hold next month, and would cover issues including reunions for families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War and possible cooperation projects.

 The North had accepted the letter, but had yet to respond, South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told a news briefing. “I don’t think we will have any particular agenda, but our position is to discuss everything that South and North have mutual interests in,” said Mr Ryoo, noting that 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japan.

It is unclear if Pyongyang would accept Seoul’s offer as the country has viewed South Korea’s unification plans as an attempt to take over the territory.

North Korea has denied responsibility for the cyberattack on the US-based film studio arm of Japan’s Sony Corp, which distributed a comedy film featuring an assassination plot against the North’s leader, Mr Kim Jong-un.

Pyongyang subsequently blamed Washington for its own Internet outages and has denied any involvement in recent system breaches into South Korea’s state nuclear power operator.

A delegation of high-level North Korean officials made a surprise visit in October to the closing ceremony of the Asian Games hosted by the South and promised to reopen dialogue between the two. However, the two sides failed to hold follow-up talks as tension persisted, with the North lashing out at the South over anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets sent to the North via balloon by activist groups.

Military officials from North and South Korea met in October to discuss border altercations, although they did not resolve their differences.

South Korea imposed sanctions on Pyongyang in 2010 following the sinking of a South Korean corvette that killed 46 sailors, which Seoul blamed on the North. Pyongyang has denied responsibility and the issue has been an obstacle to re-engagement since.

Mr Ryoo said South Korea would explain to the North its inter-Korean cooperation plans, including a peace park at the demilitarised zone, adding that it was seeking a fresh round of reunions for families separated by the Korean War.

The two Koreas have remained technically at war for more than six decades as the Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.