The Pentagon says senior U.S. military officers representing the United Nations command in South Korea will hold their second meeting in a week with some of their North Korean counterparts on Friday. The military talks have suddenly increased in frequency as tensions have risen in the region this week.
It was just Monday that senior U.N. officers from the United States, South Korea, Britain and New Zealand met with North Korean generals at Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone. That was the first meeting at that level since 2002 and officials say it only lasted half an hour.
Now, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says North Korea has agreed to another meeting among the generals on Friday, and lower-level officers met Thursday to prepare for the session.
"So there is a dialogue going on - it's the first in a number of years - that we hope will go a long way towards establishing a level of enhanced trust between these two militaries on opposite sides of what has been a contested border over the years," he said.
These meetings come amid increased tension on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has said it plans to launch a satellite. But U.S. and South Korean officials believe the launch, if it happens, could really be a test of a long-range missile. In addition, North Korea has complained of what it considers provocative moves by U.S. troops in the demilitarized zone, which the United States denies.
Then on Thursday, North Korea called annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises scheduled for this month the prelude to an invasion, and said it could not guarantee the safety of South Korean civilian aircraft near the border during the exercises. That drew this response from the Pentagon's Geoff Morrell.
"These are annual exercises between the Republic of Korea and our U.S. forces in Korea," he said. "I'm not aware of any component of the exercise which would necessitate flying either Korean or U.S. aircraft into North Korean airspace."
The State Department also rejected the North Korean threat to civilian aviation, calling it "unwelcome" and "distinctly unhelpful."
All this comes as the Obama administration's new envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, is making his first visit to the region. Ambassador Bosworth is meeting with officials of China, Japan, Russia and South Korea to take stock of what is called the "six-party talks" aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program. Officials say the new envoy will also meet with North Korean officials, but there is no schedule for that yet.