SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Friday agreed to resume reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, the latest in a series of conciliatory gestures from a country that was threatening South Korea and the U.S. with nuclear war almost a year ago.
Seoul welcomed the decision, which came on the heels of an offer rejected earlier to hold the emotional reunions for the first time in more than three years. South Korea has so far been wary of the North’s larger outreach, noting that Pyongyang has previously followed such calls for detente with provocations.
The gesture is seen by many analysts as an attempt to improve ties to help win aid for Pyongyang’s struggling economy. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to boost his impoverished people’s standard of living, even as he pursues a nuclear weapons and missile program that has been condemned by his neighbors and the United States.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which is responsible for cross-border relations, said in a statement that Pyongyang proposed holding the reunions sometime after next week’s Lunar New Year’s Day and said that the South could choose the date.
Pyongyang last year cancelled reunion plans at the last minute, injuring ties that had slowly begun to improve after a torrent of threatening rhetoric from the North in March and April that followed international condemnation of Pyongyang’s third nuclear test, in February, and U.S.-South Korean annual war drills.
Those drills are set to resume again in coming weeks, and there’s been worry in Seoul that another outburst from Pyongyang will follow.
In New York, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations again demanded that South Korea cancel the drills.
“We again propose immediately and unconditionally halting all military and hostile acts targeting the fellow countrymen in collusion with outsiders,” Sin Son Ho said in a rare press conference. He called the exercises “dangerous” and said the international community should no longer permit them.
The ambassador proposed “halting all acts of provoking and slandering the other side from January 30, a day before the Lunar New Year’s Day.”
He did not answer questions on other issues, including Kenneth Bae, an American detained for more than a year in North Korea and accused of crimes against the state.
South Korea has so far rejected the North’s offer to take a series of steps to ease tensions that include canceling the military drills, saying Pyongyang must take nuclear disarmament steps first.
The fighting between North and South Korea ended six decades ago with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula still technically in a state of war.