North Korea

North and South Korea agree to ministerial talks

Historic meeting at truce village a step in right direction ahead of ministerial summit, but caution reigns after years of bitter experience

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 10:39am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 June, 2013, 3:44am

North and South Korea agreed to hold minister-level talks in Seoul later this week, Yonhap News Agency said, as the two sides seek limited reconciliation following heightened rhetoric over the North's nuclear programme earlier this year.

The two governments are working on a draft agreement for the meeting, which may last more than a day, Yonhap reported, citing an unidentified South Korean government official.

The delegates were still talking more than 12 hours after the meeting began at the border "truce village" of Panmunjom.

But South Korean officials seemed confident they would reach an agreement for the ministerial talks. It was unclear when the meeting would end or if a new round would also be held today.

The intense media interest in what was essentially a meeting of bureaucrats to iron out technical details is an indication of how bad ties between the Koreas have been.

Before leaving for the border, Chun Hae-sung, the chief South Korean delegate, said the North and South could move towards greater economic co-operation and political reconciliation when they "start building trust on small things first". The North Korean delegation was led by Kim Song-hye, a senior official at the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea.

A spokesman for the South's Unification Ministry said the two sides discussed technical issues for the ministerial meeting.

"The atmosphere of today's meeting, as both South and North Korea have come to the meeting table after some time... was such that the talks have gone smoothly without any argument," ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said in Seoul. There was no immediate comment on the talks from the North.

Before the talks got under way, officials said they would focus on normalising commercial projects, including the Kaesong industrial zone just inside North Korea, closed in early April, and reuniting families still separated 60 years after the war.

North Korea's overture to hold discussions reversed months of bellicose rhetoric after the United Nations imposed toughened sanctions against the North in response to its third nuclear test in February. The North also reopened a Red Cross hotline with South Korea last week.

Government officials from the two Koreas last met in Panmunjom in 2000 to work on logistics of the historic inter-Korean summit meeting that year.

President Park Geun-hye, who took office in February with a promise of greater engagement with Pyongyang, has welcomed the initiative. But she remains adamant that the North must show a tangible commitment to abandoning nuclear weapons.

The New York Times, Bloomberg, Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse