July 17, 2017 11:40 am JST  (Updated July 17, 2017 3:23 pm JST)

South Korea proposes military talks with North Korea to ease tensions

A North Korean soldier takes photographs as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (not pictured) arrives at the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korea, April 17, 2017. © Reuters

SEOUL (kyodo) -- South Korea on Monday proposed holding inter-Korean military talks on Friday to ease tensions along the border, South Korean Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo Suk said.

In the proposal, South Korea wants to have the meeting at Tongilgak, a North Korean building in the truce village of Panmunjeom, Suh said in a press briefing.

He said South Korea wants the meeting to help halt "all acts of hostility" near the Military Demarcation Line that bisects the two Koreas.

The South Korean government separately proposed reopening Red Cross talks to discuss ways to resume family reunions.

The South's Red Cross proposed holding the talks on Aug. 1 at the Peace House, a Panmunjeom building controlled by the South.

"We anticipate the North's side making a positive response" to the proposal, Suh said.

South Korea President Moon Jae In, who took office in May, has been advocating engagement with North Korea despite high tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear arms and missile programs, in stark contrast to his two predecessors, who maintained a harder-line policy toward the North.

If North Korea accepts the South's offer for the military talks, it would be the first official governmental talks between the two Koreas since vice ministerial talks were held in December 2015.

The temporary reunions of families that remain separated since the end of the Korean War were last held in October 2015.

Later Monday, South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myong Gyon urged North Korea to accept the South Korean offer for talks.

"If the South and the North sit down face to face, matters of mutual interest could be discussed in a candid manner," Cho told reporters.

Cho, whose office handles ties with the North, said South Korea does not have a hostile policy against North Korea and does not seek North Korea's collapse or unification through absorption.

South Korea's policy is consistently centered on making the Korean Peninsula free from the threats of nuclear weapons and war, he said.

"We want to cooperate with the international community in opening up a more bright future with North Korea if North Korea chooses to take a right path," Cho said.

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