Koreas Agree To First High-Level Talks In Years
Cars drive past barricades on the road linking North Korea’s Kaesong Industrial Complex at a military checkpoint in Paju, near the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas, on Thursday. Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images
It’s too early to tell whether North Korea’s offer on Thursday of talks with the South — potentially the first such dialogue in years — is more than just another negotiating tactic.
But Seoul readily accepted the offer, and though Pyongyang said the agenda should be discussing the reopening of the jointly run Kaesong factory complex inside North Korea, it left the door open for the possibility of broader negotiations.
“We call for meeting between authorities to normalize Kaesong Industrial Complex and reopening of Mount Kumgang Tourist Region,” Pyongyang’s official KCNA news service reported. “If necessary, we could negotiate humanitarian issues such as bringing together separated families.”
As The Associated Press writes:
“The envisioned talks could help rebuild avenues of inter-Korean cooperation that were obliterated in recent years amid hard-line stances by both countries, though the key issue isolating the North from the world community — its nuclear program — is not up for debate.”
North Korea left the time and place for the talks up to the South. South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae on Thursday proposed a Cabinet-level meeting in Seoul next Wednesday.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye had offered the talks in April, and she called what she said was the North’s belated acceptance “fortunate.”
North Korea has been saber rattling for months: issuing almost daily threats to South Korea and the United States, putting its long-range missiles on standby and conducting provocative tests of its shorter-range rockets. Tensions were at their highest in April during joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea, and that’s when Pyongyang closed down the Kaesong complex.
But in recent weeks, the threat level seems to have decreased, with a reported reshuffling at the top of Pyongyang’s military structure and China appearing to become increasingly frustrated with its North Korean ally.