North Korea has met for the first time in years with senior officers in the United Nations Command that monitors the heavily armed border dividing the Korean peninsula. The meeting comes days before the scheduled start of US - South Korea military drills.
The United Nations Command says it welcomed Monday's opportunity to hold discussions with North Korea, which hold the prospect "for building trust and preventing misunderstandings between both sides."
The meeting took place Monday in Panmunjeom, the village straddling the heavily armed military demarcation line separating the two Koreas. It is where a 1953 armistice was signed following North Korea's invasion of the South three years earlier. The U.N. Command, led by the United States, monitors the tense detente along the border established by the armistice in the absence of a permanent peace treaty.
Over the weekend, Pyongyang's official news agency warned the North would take "resolute" action if U.S. forces continued what it calls "provocations" in the Korean demilitarized zone. The North accuses American military personnel of venturing on a number of occasions close to the North's side of the the zone in order to photograph North Korean military installations. South Korean defense officials say the United Nations Command has only engaged in legitimate monitoring of the zone.
South Korean media quote defense officials in Seoul as saying North Korea used Monday's meeting to request a halt to scheduled military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces. Pyongyang has frequently referred to the annual drills, due to start this week, as a rehearsal for invasion. U.S. and South Korean officials say the exercises are a purely defensive means of ensuring the alliance can defeat any aggressive moves by the North.
North Korea announced last week it would launch a "satellite," which U.S. and South Korean officials believe is a cover for plans to test a long-range missile possibly capable of reaching the United States. South Korean officials have repeatedly warned the launch would violate United Nations resolutions imposed after Pyongyang's 2006 long-range missile and nuclear tests.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called on North Korea Sunday to come to the talking table as soon as possible for an "unconditional conversation."
Mr. Lee says it is not North Korea's nuclear weapons that can protect it, but rather inter-Korean cooperation and international cooperation with other countries.
Newly appointed U.S. envoy for North Korea policy Stephen Bosworth is expected to arrive in Seoul later this week in hopes of reviving regional talks to engage North Korea and get rid of its nuclear weapons capabilities for good.