South Korea’s response to North Korea’s release of two Americans

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North and South Korean children play on a hill after a day of heavy rain near Seoul on Apr. 1, 2011. North Korea, now the world’s most isolated nation due to its nuclear program, is still trying to maintain its military regime. (AP)

Seoul, South Korea — On Friday, North Korea released two more American prisoners and announced it would hold “a high-level meeting” with the United States on Monday morning.

While an international outcry followed the North’s announcement, the government of South Korea, like its counterparts in Iran and North Vietnam, faced a much different situation. In North Korea, it was a celebration, with its state media lauding the release of the two Americans.

While the United States’ release of the two American citizens, Kenneth Bae and Otto Warmbier, was heralded as a sign of goodwill, the South Korean government responded in a much more dignified manner.

The South Korean president and the head of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, Shin Jong-bum, both condemned the North’s actions. However, they also called the release of two Americans “inexplicable” and called for a swift punishment.

While both the president and the intelligence chief spoke of the need for reconciliation, South Koreans expressed their belief that, in the face of the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, the North would react only in a way that would be considered just.

On Friday, the Seoul government issued a statement from its prime minister that sought to define its attitude toward North Korea: “The government’s position has been conveyed to the North. We hope that the North-South dialogue will be able to resume as soon as possible.”

The message was clear: A resumption of bilateral dialogue with the North is not an option for South Korea.

“If the U.S. and North Korea are

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