SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea on Wednesday proposed a date to North Korea for the rivals' first official contact since the North's deadly shelling of a South Korean island late last year.
The proposal for a meeting in two weeks on resuming high-level military talks came as a senior U.S. diplomat visited Seoul to show solidarity with a close American ally and to talk about North Korea.
The North has made a recent push for talks to ease hostility on the peninsula after weeks of threatening war. The South, which responded to the North's Nov. 23 artillery attack with military drills and threats of its own, has agreed to talks but remains wary of North Korean intentions.
The hostilities between the Koreas have further put off hopes of a new round of international negotiations on ending North Korea's nuclear programs. Talks between the rivals would be a good step in that direction, though Seoul, Washington and Tokyo have insisted that the North prove it is serious about giving up its atomic ambitions before they will allow a new round of aid-for-disarmament negotiations.
South Korea's defense minister sent a message to his North Korean counterpart proposing a Feb. 11 meeting in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the peninsula, the Defense Ministry said.
Also Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg held talks with Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, telling reporters afterward that the allies' ties were as close as "sticky rice cake."
Steinberg called on the North to demonstrate that it's sincerely prepared to reject violence and to engage in meaningful dialogue on its nuclear programs.
The strong cooperation between Washington and Seoul "has sent a strong message to North Korea that they're not going to achieve their objectives through intimidation, through coercion, and that, on the contrary, all they will do is deepen their isolation."
North Korea's Foreign Ministry responded by calling for negotiations with Seoul and Washington to make sure that there wouldn't be any future provocations.
The North's artillery attack on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island near their disputed sea border killed two marines and two civilians and fueled animosity between the rivals that was already rising because of the March sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan.
A South Korean-led international investigation blamed a North Korean torpedo for the sinking, which killed 46 sailors; Pyongyang denies involvement.