Seoul Seeks New Talks With North Korea, Hoping To Tamp Down Tensions

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"And perhaps, if that went well, then it would set the scene for the Red Cross to be able to talk a bit more about the possibility of having family reunions this year", said Novak.

But the vice minister declined to specify which acts of hostility were being referred to, but said that Seoul and Pyongyang would discuss the issues "in a comprehensive manner". The last government level talks were held in December 2015.

"Since 1985, 20 rounds of reunions have been held".

Iron ore imports from North Korea surged, with China arguing that the United Nations sanctions resolution allows for trade if the income is used for the livelihood of civilians.

South Korea stepped up efforts Monday to engage North Korea by proposing military talks this week, despite Pyongyang's insistence on developing nuclear weapons in defiance of global sanctions.

Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo-suk suggested the military talks take place Friday at Tongilgak on the North side of the truce village of Panmunjeom.

North Korea has called for the suspension of South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises, but Pinkston said that is unlikely given Pyongyang's repeated ballistic missile launches, including the July 4 test of what some experts say was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with the potential range to reach Alaska, although the U.S. disputes this claim.

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Al Jazeera's Kathy Novak, reporting from Seoul, said family separation is seen as a "very pressing and emotional humanitarian issue", - particularly in South Korea.

In his Berlin speech, Moon also proposed holding Red Cross talks with the DPRK for the reunion of separate families of the two Koreas on October 4 that marks the 10th anniversary of the October 4 joint declaration and also the traditional Chuseok holiday.

The Korean Red Cross plans to dispatch three representatives to the DPRK, with secretary general Kim Gunn-joong leading the delegation. "The proposal to restart reunions of separated families is a follow up to President Moon Jae-in's Berlin Declaration, which attempts to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula and open up a channel of dialogue with Pyongyang".

Moon's point man on the North sought to assure the communist state of the South's sincerity and seriousness behind Monday's proposal.

The North has traditionally tried to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington, observers pointed out.

Earlier, White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said, "The threat [from North Korea] is much more immediate now".

Numerous estimated 60,000 South Koreans that have signed up to participate in these sporadically held inter-Korean reunions are elderly and have had virtually no contact with relatives living in the repressive North where contact with the outside world is highly restricted.