North and South Korea are planning to hold their first
inter-governmental talks since the South's conservative president
assumed office last year. The rare meeting comes as North Korea
sharpens its menacing rhetoric and detains a South Korean businessman.
officials have mostly refused to sit across a table from what they call
South Korean "traitors" for more than a year. Now, says South Korean
Unification Ministry Spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo, the South has accepted
an offer from Pyongyang to talk.
says inter-Korean talks will take place on April 21. North Korea has
suggested the talks to discuss the joint North-South industrial complex
in the North Korean city of Kaesong. She says the government will do
everything it can to ensure staff safety at Kaesong.
has detained for three weeks a South Korean executive who helps to
manage the Kaesong factory park, saying he made disrespectful comments
about the North's government. It is the latest in a series of problems
facing the Kaesong zone, which was once viewed as the centerpiece of a
ten-year South Korean experiment in engaging the North with heavy
generosity and minimal criticism.
Conservative South Korean
President Lee Myung-bak altered that experiment when he was inaugurated
last year. He has said transfers of South Korean public money must be
contingent on progress on several issues, chief among them, diplomacy
to get rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons.
The nuclear process
took a step backward last week, as North Korea ejected international
nuclear inspectors, announced its withdrawal from multinational talks,
and said it would resume production of nuclear materials. The steps
were an angry response to a United Nations denouncement of a long-range
rocket launch by the North earlier this month.
experts here in Seoul believe the North will use this week's meeting to
warn the South not to join a U.S. - led anti-proliferation campaign.
South Korea has already backed off of two expected announcements this
week that it would participate in the Proliferation Security
Initiative, or PSI.
Pyongyang repeated a threat Saturday that it would view the South's participation in PSI as a "declaration of war."
North Korean news presenter reads a government statement saying "the
Lee group of traitors should never forget that Seoul is just 50 km away
from the Military Demarcation Line" separating the two Koreas.
announcement is seen as an implicit reference to North Korea's massive
buildup of artillery and rockets along the border. Military officials
say even though the South Korean and U.S. militaries are superior to
that of the North, Pyongyang could potentially use those weapons to
kill hundreds of thousands of people in and around Seoul in a matter of
hours. For that reason, most South Korean policymakers view military
conflict with the North as unthinkable.