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.
North Korean 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.
She 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.
North Korea 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.
North Korea 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."
A 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.
The 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.