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Wednesday, February 3, 1999 Published at 18:07 GMT


World: Asia-Pacific

Is North Korea bluffing?

North Korea has deployed mini-subs against the South

By Korean Affairs Expert Angie Knox

North Korea has offered to hold high-level talks with South Korea later this year.

It is the first offer from Pyongyang since a proposed summit between North and South Korean leaders was cancelled after the death of North Korean President Kim Il-Sung almost five years ago.

But the North has attached stringent conditions to the proposal, including an end to military co-operation between South Korea and the United States.

South Korea says it is studying the proposal, but there are concerns that Pyongyang may just be calling Seoul's bluff.

Fragile peace

The two Koreas have maintained an uneasy truce since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended without a permanent peace agreement.


[ image: Kim Dae-Jung: His sunshine policy is in the balance]
Kim Dae-Jung: His sunshine policy is in the balance
South Korea's President Kim Dae-Jung was elected nearly a year ago and initiated a new 'sunshine policy' of engagement with the North.

But it has failed to prevent rising tension, caused mainly by a series of infiltration attempts by North Korea, often using mini-submarines.

Pyongyang turned down President Kim's own proposal for a summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and gradual rapprochement between the two Koreas.

President Kim's administration had been planning to mark his first anniversary in office with another proposal for a meeting with Kim Jong-Il.

Pre-emptive strike

But Pyongyang's offer of talks has pre-empted them.

South Korean officials have given the initiative a cautious welcome.

But the North Korean conditions on the proposal are likely to prove a serious stumbling block.

As in previous offers of talks, Pyongyang has stipulated that Seoul must end its military co-operation with the United States, which has 36,000 troops stationed in South Korea.

It also wants Seoul to scrap its anti-Communist legislation and allow groups which support Pyongyang to operate legally.

End to the sunshine?

President Kim is now in a quandary. He cannot accept the proposal as it is, but if he rejects North Korea's conditions, then how can he sustain the sunshine policy?

One solution might be to link meeting North Korean conditions with confidence-building measures over a period of time.

But given Pyongyang's history of unpredictability in international negotiations, inter-Korean talks may be some way off yet.



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