Koreas Talk After Two Year Drought


North Korean officials attend national meeting to mark 20th anniversary of late leader Kim Jong-il's election as chairman of North Korea's National Defence Commission in PyongyangThe discussions lasted into the early Monday morning hours.  Lower level representatives from North and South Korea held joint talks for the first time in two years.

The discussions between junior level representatives was requested by the North Koreans, and was intended to set up an official higher level meeting between the two nations.

Sunday’s marathon preparatory discussions, weighed down, as always, by decades of mutual distrust, were held in the border truce village of Panmunjom where the armistice ending the 1950-53 Korean War was signed.

The discussions reportedly set up a ministerial-level meeting between the two on Wednesday in Seoul.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported the tentative agreement.  If Wednesday’s discussions take place, commercial links between the two countries will be the focus of deliberation.  First on the agenda is expected to be the joint Kaesong industrial complex.  North Korea expelled all South Korean workers in April, virtually shutting down the facility.

Sunday’s talks occurred because North Korea dropped its belligerence towards the South, and initiated the discussion.  A recent visit to China by a high level member of North Korea’s ruling party, reportedly delivered a handwritten note to Chinese President President Xi Jinping from Kim Jong Un.  The North Korean leader was seeking a meeting between the two rulers.  Sources claimed that Jinping had expressed displeasure with the threats of nuclear attack by Pyongyang.  China is North Korea’s sole major ally, and its primary economic benefactor.

South Korea retains skepticism about the purpose of the requested discussions by the North.

“The North Korean offer has all of the hallmarks of Pyongyang’s diplomacy,” said Stephan Haggard, a North Korea expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“Pyongyang is ‘sincerely’ and ‘magnanimously’ inviting the South to fix, and pay for, problems of the North’s own creation,” Haggard said.

The United Nations levied economic sanctions against North Korea because of its attempt at nuclear proliferation with a test of a weapon in February.  Few sources exist for economic gain.  In addition to the Kaesong industrial complex, North Korea is seeking the resumption of tours to its  Mount Kumgang resort.  They ended in July 2008 when a South Korean tourist was shot and killed by a North Korean soldier.

President Obama and President Jinping met in California on Saturday.  They were expected to discuss North Korea and it nuclear program, as well as increased trade between the two countries.  The President will reportedly ask the Chinese president to assist in dismantling North Korea’s nukes.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, who took office in February with a promise of greater engagement with Pyongyang, has welcomed the initiative.

It was the North’s nuclear test in February, and subsequent UN sanctions, that triggered the recent crisis, which saw Pyongyang threaten both the South and the United States with pre-emptive nuclear strikes.

North Korea insists that its nuclear program is not up for discussion.

Whatever the impetus was that caused the two nations to begin discussions, it is welcomed by the entire world.  A two year drought has ended.  Hopefully talks by North and South Korea will result in the lessening of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

James Turnage

The Guardian Express


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