News / Asia

    Koreas High-Level Talks Raise Hopes of Improved Relations

    South Korean chief delegate Kim Kyou-hyun, right, shakes hands with his North Korean counterpart Won Tong Yon upon his arrival at the border village of Panumjom, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014.
    South Korean chief delegate Kim Kyou-hyun, right, shakes hands with his North Korean counterpart Won Tong Yon upon his arrival at the border village of Panumjom, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014.
    Daniel Schearf
    North and South Korea have held their highest level talks in seven years, raising hopes for improved relations between the two nations.
     
    North Korea requested the unexpected high-level talks that opened Wednesday. South Korea said there is no formal agenda or timetable, but that the talks would include plans for family reunions.
     
    Officials from the two Koreas met in the truce village of Panmunjom, along the heavily fortified border known as the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
     
    South Korea sent representatives from the office of the president and Ministries of Unification and Defense. The North Korean officials were from the Workers' Party of Korea, the military and the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea.
     
    Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University, said the stepped-up dialogue indicates North Korea wants to present a better image and resume six-nation negotiations on its nuclear programs.
     
    On the other hand, Kim said, the talks could also be viewed as North Korea trying to show a warm gesture indirectly towards the United States. Coming one day ahead of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to South Korea, he said, Pyongyang may be demonstrating its intention to improve inter-Korean relations.
     
    North Korea is pushing for a resumption of nuclear talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United states. However, Washington, Seoul and Tokyo want to see sincere gestures from Pyongyang before returning to negotiations.
     
    The high-level talks are also a week before rescheduled reunions of 180 families separated since the 1950s Korean War.
     
    The reunions, the first since 2010, were planned to take place last September, but North Korea postponed them, citing what it described as a hostile and arrogant attitude from South Korea.
     
    Pyongyang last month agreed to six days of reunions from February 20 at its Mount Kumgang resort. However, last week it threatened to once again scuttle the plan unless the United States and South Korea cancel joint military drills.
     
    North Korea considers the annual exercises preparation for an invasion while Washington and Seoul say they are to maintain readiness for Pyongyang's provocations.
     
    Despite the tension, political analyst Kim said North Korea is not likely to delay the reunions again.
     
    He said that if North Korea does postpone the family reunions again, it would endure scathing criticism.
     
    Regardless, the reunions this time could be postponed by bad weather. The Mount Kumgang resort area was hit this week with two meters of snow. South Korea sent nine snow plows to clear roads leading up to the venue, but more snow is expected.
     
    The last high-level talks between the two Koreas led to the 2007 summit meeting in Pyongyang between former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.
     
    However, relations plummeted afterwards over North Korea's pursuit of nuclear and long-range weapons, the deadly sinking in 2010 of a South Korean navy ship and the shelling of a South Korean island.
     
    Former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg, an advocate for dialogue, is visiting Pyongyang for the Pacific Century Institute. Tom Plate, one of the institute's board members, said the trip is not aimed at securing the release of detained U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae, but they would welcome any opportunity to help.
     
    “I can only give you the psychology of the team going... that's up there. And, that is that they do not underestimate the intelligence of the North Korean government or its officials. And, I think they feel it would be impolite to raise the issue. But, at the same time, I think they would be astonished if their counterparts up there were not aware that they would like to be some help if that were possible,” said Plate.
     
    The U.S. State Department last weekend said Pyongyang, for the second time, withdrew an invitation for special envoy Robert King come to discuss releasing Bae.
     
    The American missionary has been detained for over a year, part of a 15-year sentence for hostile acts against the state. Despite health issues, he was recently transferred from a hospital to a labor camp.
     
    U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson volunteered to go to North Korea, if invited, to seek Bae's release on behalf of his family. The State Department said it would support such efforts.
     
    VOA Seoul Bureau Producer Youmi Kim contributed to this report.

    You May Like

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.