Two Koreas to talk in border village after tensions
SEOUL, South Korea – North and South Korea will meet in a village straddling their heavily armed border Sunday for the first government-level talks on the peninsula in more than two years as they try to lower tension and restore stalled projects that once symbolized their rapprochement.
The North on Saturday delivered its agreement to talk in Panmunjom through a Red Cross line restored a day earlier, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said in a text message. Pyongyang had earlier favored its border city of Kaesong, which contains the industrial park emptied in May after tensions peaked.
Representatives of the rival Koreas met on the peninsula in February 2011 and their nuclear envoys met in Beijing later that year, but government officials from both sides have not met since. Sunday’s meeting would be clearest sign of eased tensions since Pyongyang threatened to attack South Korea and the United States with nuclear missiles earlier this year, and the South made counter-threats.
It also comes as their top allies are meeting. President Barack Obama opened a weekend summit Friday with Chinese President Xi Jinping in California to discuss several topics, including North Korea’s nuclear programs.
China provides the lifeline for North Korea struggling with energy and other economic needs and views stability in Pyongyang as crucial for its own economy and border security. But after Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test in February, China tightened its cross-border trade inspections and banned its state banks from dealing with North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un late last month sent China his special envoy, who reportedly told Xi that Pyongyang was willing to return to dialogue. South Korean President Park Geun-hye will travel to Beijing to meet Xi later this month.
The talks between the Koreas on Sunday could represent a change in North Korea’s approach, analysts said, or could simply be an effort to ease international demands that it end its development of nuclear weapons, a topic crucial to Washington but initially not a part of the envisioned inter-Korean meetings.
The Unification Ministry, which handles cross-border relations, said the talks at Panmunjom are aimed at setting up higher-level talks. No other details on possible topics were released.