South and North Korea agree to minister-level talks

Posted on : 2013-06-07 11:40 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
On the agenda would be normalization at Kaesong, tours to Mt. Keumgang and reunions for divided families
 June 6. (by Kim Tae-hyeong
June 6. (by Kim Tae-hyeong

By Gil Yun-hyung, staff reporter and Seok Jin-hwan, Blue House correspondent

The South Korean government has accepted North Korea’s offer for talks between authorities, making a counter proposal that minister-level talks be held in Seoul on June 12. The move is being interpreted as revealing Park Geun-hye’s proactive intention to normalize inter-Korean relations.

The most recent South Korean government proposal for talks can be viewed as having considerable significance. The last time that the South Korean Minister of Unification participated in level talks was in June 2007, during the presidency of Roh Moo-hyun.

The South Korean government had initially proposed holding working-level talks toward reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex, but after North Korea offered to discuss not only the Kaesong issue but also the reopening of tours to Mt. Keumgang and reunions of separated families, Seoul made a new proposal to the North that would upgrade the talks to minister-level.

“We believe it is appropriate to hold talks with minister-level officials who are in positions of responsibility both since this would reduce the amount of time the process would take and since it would build trust between North and South,” said a senior South Korean government official.

“Considering that the nature of the agenda items suggested by North Korea are such that they cannot be dealt with in working-level talks, it seems appropriate that the government would respond by suggesting that minister-level talks be held,” said Kim Yeon-cheol, a professor of unification at Inje University.

The fact that North Korea allowed Seoul the discretion to choose where and when the talks would be held also appears to have helped the government come to this affirmative decision.

Minister-level talks between North and South, which are the product of a deliberative body that was created to implement major points of agreement for the June 2000 summit between the North and South, have been held 21 times. However, the last time the talks took place was in Seoul in June 2007. As inter-Korean relations deteriorated during the presidency of Lee Myung-bak, these talks were not held even once.

The government also broke with tradition by offering to hold the talks in Seoul. The location of most of the 21 minister-level talks that have taken place so far rotated between Seoul and Pyongyang. But after the minister-level talks were suspended, most of the few talks that were held during the Lee administration took place at Kaesong or Mt. Keumgang in North Korea. That means that if the minister-level talks are held, it is likely that the next meeting will take place in Pyongyang according to the past tradition of going back and forth between the two capitals.

Furthermore, if the talks are held in Seoul, they will appear much more important and relevant to South Korean citizens than if they were to take place at some comparatively neutral location such as Panmunjeom, Kaesong, or Mt. Keumgang. This can also give the impression that South Korea took the initiative and aggressively pushed to hold these talks.

A South Korean government official acknowledged on condition of anonymity that the decision shows that South Korea hopes to take the lead in improving inter-Korean relations. If the minister-level meeting takes place in Seoul, it is also possible that the North Korean delegation could meet with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

It appears that the first agenda item for these minister-level talks will be normalizing operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which is the most pressing concern for North and South at the moment, and taking measures to ensure that operations are not shut down again. In relation to this, Park recently suggested implementing “international standards” that would allow corporations to do business at the complex without fears about the future.

Another important issue is how to reopen tours to Mt. Keumgang. Discussions on this topic broke down in Feb. 2010. At the time, the South Korean government had insisted that the North take three actions: revealing the truth about the South Korean tourist who was shot dead by a North Korean soldier in July 2008, taking measures to prevent such an incident from occurring again, and creating a system for guaranteeing individuals’ safety. These demands triggered a backlash from North Korea and led to the breakdown of the talks.

It does not appear that there will be much difficulty in reaching an agreement on other agenda items, including commemorative ceremonies for the June 15 Joint Declaration (2000) and the July 4 Joint Statement, which was announced by former president Park Chung-hee in 1972.

North Korea might try to link the reunions of divided families, which have been suspended since Oct. 2010, with the reopening of tours to Mt. Keumgang, since the reception hall used for the reunions is located at the entrance to the Mt. Keumgang resort. The reception hall was confiscated by the North Korean authorities after the cessation of tours to Mt. Keumgang, and North Korea has also tried linking the two in the past.


Please direct questions or comments to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles