Thawing? Two Koreas Hold Highest-Level Talks Since 2007

February 12, 2014

Quickly organized talks held Wednesday between representatives from South and North Korea marked the highest-level such meeting between the two nations since 2007, South Korea’s Yonhap news reports.

Held at the North’s request, the sit-down in the border village of Panmunjom “could set the tone for inter-Korean ties after months of tensions,” the news service adds. It says “the rare talks come four days after North Korea made a surprise offer for a comprehensive discussion on inter-Korean relations as an apparent part of its recent conciliatory overtures toward South Korea.”

But little is known about how the meeting went. Reuters writes that the delegations met “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.”

From Beijing, NPR’s Anthony Kuhn adds that “it’s not clear whether North Korea’s nuclear programs were discussed, but Pyongyang considers that an issue between it and Washington, not Seoul.”

As always, figuring out what the mercurial leaders in the North are up to is difficult. The meeting came just 12 days before annual joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces. As Global Post notes, such exercises always bring objections from the North.

In November 2010, saying it had been provoked by South Korean naval exercises, the North shelled an island claimed by the South. Two civilians were killed.

Still, “the BBC’s Lucy Williamson, who was at the border area, says the delegations appeared to greet each other cordially. The two sides met for 90 minutes in the morning at South Korea’s side of Panmunjom and then reconvened for three hours in the afternoon, after which the two chief delegates held one-to-one discussions.”

Reuters says that “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.”

If family reunions do resume later this month, Bloomberg News says, “Kang Neung Hwan, a 92-year-old retired salesman from Seoul, [has] the chance of seeing his son for the first time. … Kang is the oldest of 100 South Koreans chosen by lottery to see relatives left behind almost 61 years after the war cemented the division of the two countries. The reunions, last held in 2010, begin Feb. 20 if the North keeps its commitment.”

Kang’s son is 62. Bloomberg writes that the father didn’t learn until last year that the wife he left behind in the North had been pregnant when he fled to the South.

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