In a New Year’s press conference Monday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye made an overture to North Korea, extending an offer to hold talks without any preconditions. “My position is that to ease the pain of division and to accomplish peaceful unification, I am willing to meet with anyone,” Park said in her speech. “If it is helpful, I am up for a summit meeting with the North. There is no pre-condition.”
Geun-hye’s remarks are in part a reaction to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un conceding that he would be willing to hold a summit with the South under certain conditions, says Charles Armstrong, a professor of Korean Studies at Columbia University.
“If the atmosphere and environment is there, there is no reason not to hold a high-level summit [with South Korea],” Kim Jong Un said in a speech broadcast on state media January 1. However, Pyongyang has not acquiesced to recent requests to resume negotiations with South Korea on human rights and other matters.
Amstrong says that “both sides are sending signals to the other that they are ready to open dialogue.”
The Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief in Korea is less optimistic about the possibility for talks, saying that “there are always unpalatable preconditions in inter-Korean talks even if one side says there aren’t.”
The two countries have been divided since the end of World War II. The Korean War that followed ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty, thus North and South Korea have technically been at war for more than six decades. Reunification has been a goal for both states, but they lie on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of political ideology.