North and South Korea seek better ties at rare high-level talks

SEOUL Wed Feb 12, 2014 8:08am EST

1 of 4. Head of the North Korean high-level delegation, Won Tong Yon (C) crosses the concrete border which separates the two Koreas at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone, north of Seoul February 12, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Unification Ministry/Yonhap

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SEOUL (Reuters) - North and South Korea held their first high-level talks in seven years on their fortified border on Wednesday, exploring ways to improve ties while the South and the United States geared up for military exercises that have angered the North.

The meeting was set up with unusual speed and great secrecy at the North's suggestion last week, the latest example of conflicting signals coming from North Korea that included an abrupt cancellation of an invitation for a U.S. envoy to visit.

The two sides met at the Panmunjom truce village on the border with no pre-arranged agenda and discussed a range of issues including reunions of families separated during their 1950-53 Korean War, a South Korean official said.

The North has demanded that the South and the United States scrap the military exercises, due to start later this month, but both sides have plenty of incentives to seek a deal that could break their long stalemate.

"For the North, if it comes back with an accomplishment in terms of improved South-North ties, it will mean a better atmosphere for Kim Jong Un to visit China and a justification to pursue high-level talks with the United States," said Cheong Seong-chang, an expert at the Sejong Institute outside Seoul.

North Korean leader Kim is believed to be seeking a visit to China, the North's greatest ally and main benefactor, to reinforce his legitimacy as leader. In his early 30s, Kim took power when his father died suddenly in 2011.

The South Korean delegation was led by President Park Geun-hye's deputy national security adviser. North Korea has sent the second-highest ranking official in the ruling Workers' Party department charged with ties with the South.

The meeting comes a week before the two sides are scheduled to hold reunions of family members separated since the Korean War at the Mount Kumgang resort just inside the North, which is considered a major humanitarian event by the South.

However, the North has threatened to cancel the reunions, citing a sortie last week by a nuclear-capable U.S. B-52 bomber near the Korean peninsula.

The North has also called the annual military exercises between South Korean and U.S. forces a rehearsal for war despite repeated assertions by Seoul and Washington that the drills are routine and defensive. The United States has about 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea.

North Korea has cancelled an invitation for U.S. human rights envoy Robert King to visit Pyongyang to discuss the release of imprisoned U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae, which had been expected to come as early as this week.

South Korea halted all trade and most investment with the North in May 2010 after the sinking of one of its warships, which it blamed on Pyongyang.

A joint factory project in the North's border city of Kaesong, which generates about $90 million annually in wages for the impoverished state, is the last remaining symbol of economic cooperation between the two Koreas.

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Comments (6)
Zymbat wrote:
Great, this sounds like great news.

Sometimes I wonder what sort of conversations these officials have, as in, can’t they use simple reason and logic to convince the other party of the best way forward.

Hopefully this can be resolved peacefully, and we can get on to things that matter, like the economy and space exploration.

Resolution: Have one government, two provinces, north and south, ask the ‘dear leader’ of the north to rescind that title for ‘premier’ of the north that can be democratically elected, then offer a limited number of visas to each province that allows them to cross border, so that there is not a mass exodus on either side (obviously mainly north to south). The hardest part is the premier part, but I’m sure with some reasoning and some pardoning of past alleged crimes, this surely can be done.

Feb 12, 2014 1:49am EST  --  Report as abuse
sabrefencer wrote:
as long as they are talking and not shooting, the world is a safer place…

Feb 12, 2014 1:57pm EST  --  Report as abuse
homer25128 wrote:

Your resolution is a nice idea but it will never work. First, the regime would never agree to democratic elections (they claim that the Kim family has a divine right to rule). Additionally, they would never agree to any Visa program, even a miniscule number. Part of the reason the regime can maintain power is that their citizens have no idea how much better of the South is. If the population became aware of how much more wealth their is in South Korea, the inevitable conclusion would be that the state’s totalitarian control of the economy is an inefficient system. The regime bans travel outside of the country and prevents the citizens having access to any outside media to prevent their realizing just how bad they have it. The current regime realizes that if they were to embrace any type of reform, it would open a Pandora’s Box they could never close.

Feb 12, 2014 5:32pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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