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June 08, 2013

First Inter-Korean Talks in Two Years Scheduled for Sunday

by Steve Herman

North and South Korea have agreed to a date and venue for talks on a pair of stalled joint commercial projects.

South Korea's Unification Ministry says Pyongyang agreed on Saturday to meet Sunday at the truce village of Panmunjom in the heavily-guarded Demilitarized Zone separating the two foes.

This marks a significant thawing of the chill on the peninsula where tension has been high in recent months amid Pyongyang's war rhetoric and its nuclear and missile tests.

North Korea telephoned the South Friday afternoon on a Red Cross circuit running across the truce village of Panmunjom.

On the southern end of the line, officials told their counterparts in the north that they would agree to Pyongyang's offer of working-level talks Sunday. But the South wanted the discussion to take place at Panmunjom, not north of the border in Kaesong as the North proposed.

The border hotline, used to discuss humanitarian issues, was severed three months ago by the North.

Pyongyang made a surprise offer Thursday to hold wide-ranging talks with the South. It said Seoul could decide the venue and date.

South Korean officials quickly proposed ministerial-level talks in Seoul for June 12.

There have been no working level inter-Korean talks since February of 2011. Talks involving ministers have not been held in more than five years.

The North, however, termed it premature to hold high-level talks, saying working discussions would be needed initially "in the light of the prevailing situation in which relations have been suspended for many years and mistrust has reached the extreme."

A radio announcer in Pyongyang, quoting a spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, suggested a lower-level meeting be held Sunday (June 9) in the North at Kaesong.

Officials in Seoul say the talks, now set for Panmunjom, will discuss how to re-open and prevent another closure of the joint factory zone at Kaesong as well as the other shuttered inter-Korean business project - the resort complex on Mt. Keumgang.

​​The tension on the Korean peninsula is to be a key agenda item in the talks that began Friday between between visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping and his host, President Barack Obama, in the U.S. state of California.

South Korea's president, Park Geun-hye, is also scheduled to meet the Chinese leader when she travels to Beijing on June 27.

Park on Friday addressing 140 top military commanders asserted that Pyongyang's proposal this week to hold official talks is a result of Seoul standing firm in the face of threats and provocations from the North.

The two Koreas have technically remained at war since the early 1950's and there are no diplomatic relations between the North and South.