North and South hold senior-level talks in Panmunjeom

Posted on : 2014-02-12 10:47 KST Modified on : 2014-02-12 10:47 KST
A wide array of key inter-Korean issues to be discussed, including divided family reunions
 Kim Kyu-hyun of South Korea (left) and Won Dong-yon of North Korea (right).
Kim Kyu-hyun of South Korea (left) and Won Dong-yon of North Korea (right).

By Choi Hyun-june, staff reporter

North and South Korea unexpectedly agreed to hold a high-level meeting at 10 am on Feb. 12.

The agenda is expected to include a wide range of topics, including scheduled reunions among divided family members later this month and joint military exercises by South Korea and the US, as well as the possible resumption of tourism at Mt. Keumgang and the lifting of trade-blocking May 24 measures put in place in 2010 after the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan warship.

Now that South and North have gotten the ball rolling with the reunions, observers are looking to see if the meeting can help bring about other improvements in inter-Korean ties.

Kim Ui-do, a spokesman for the Ministry of Unification, called an emergency press briefing on the afternoon of Feb. 11 to announce plans for the meeting. “We have reached an agreement with North Korea to hold a senior-level inter-Korean meeting at Peace House on the South Korean side of Panmunjeom at 10 am tomorrow,” Kim said at the briefing.

He added that Kim Kyu-hyun, first deputy director of the Blue House national security bureau, would lead the South Korean delegation, while United Front Department deputy head Won Dong-yon would be leading the North Korean delegation. Although Kim is only a deputy director, his status makes him equivalent to a senior vice minister of foreign affairs and national security.

Sources reported that North Korea was insistent early on about having someone who represented the Blue House. Its own representative, Won, is second-in-command for the Workers’ Party of Korea United Front Department, the North’s equivalent to the Blue House national security office. Both delegation leaders, Kim and Won, are key figures with status on par with ministers in their respective governments.

The agenda for the meeting is expected to cover the full gamut of key issues in inter-Korean relations, without being limited to one or two specific core issues.

“We don’t have any predetermined agenda,” said Kim. “We’re going to discuss the full range of issues in inter-Korean relations. That includes areas of major interest such as making sure the family reunions come off smoothly and turning them into a regular event.”

Given the chilly state of relations in recent months, the open agenda format is quite unusual.

The question now is just what topics the two sides will end up discussing at the surprise meeting. Since its New Year’s address earlier this year, North Korea has been declaring improved ties with Seoul to be a top priority, while issuing calls for an end to “slander” on both sides and a halt to hostile military activities. In calling for the reunions last year, it also asked for a resumption of tourism at Mt. Keumgang - halted after the 2008 shooting death of a South Korean tourist - and the lifting of the so-called “May 24 measures,” economic sanctions put in place by Seoul after the Cheonan sinking.

Meanwhile, Seoul has been calling for the building of an international Peace Park in the Demilitarized Zone - one of the Park Geun-hye administration’s major interests - and steps to internationalize the Kaesong Industrial Complex and establish separated family reunions as a regular event. At root, it has been insisting that a resolution to North Korea’s nuclear program is the key to improve ties.

The Ministry of Unification reported that the North Korean National Defense Commission had been proposing senior-level talks through its Panmunjeom channels since the afternoon of Feb. 8. The agreement was finally reached on the afternoon of Feb. 11 after negotiations about the delegation members’ status and the date and time.

“We plan to have concrete discussions tomorrow, and then decide whether to have additional discussions later,” said a ministry official.


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