Low-level, preliminary military talks between North and South Korea at the Panmunjom truce village collapsed on Feb. 9 when the North Korean delegation abruptly stormed out. It had been hoped that the talks, intended as a preparatory step for high-level inter-Korea military talks, would lay a foundation for lowering the tension on the Korean Peninsula. But the collapse of the talks has underlined the huge gap between the two Koreas. It has become extremely difficult to resume the six-party talks on the North’s nuclear weapons program, which have not been held for almost two years.
Apparently, the low-level military talks had been promoted by the United States and China. In their joint statement last month in Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao called for “sincere and constructive inter-Korean dialogue” to thaw relations between the two Koreas. In meeting with Obama, Hu expressed concerns over the North’s uranium enrichment.
In the Panmunjom meeting, South Korea demanded that North Korea apologize for a March 2010 torpedo attack that sank a South Korean corvette and a November 2010 artillery attack on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island, and take measures designed to prevent recurrence of such incidents. But North Korea said that it was not responsible for the corvette sinking, which killed 46 sailors, and that the South provoked the North into shelling the island. It made a counterproposal that the North and South discuss ways to lesson the military tension. It is possible that Pyongyang desires to upgrade the Korean War truce agreement to a peace treaty.
The collapse of the meeting has made the prospects of talks between the two countries’ Red Cross organizations difficult. The talks are to deal with such humanitarian issues as reunion of family members separated by the Korean War. Despite difficulty, North and South Korea should have dialogue to lessen mutual distrust and decrease the tension. It is hoped that such dialogue could pave the way for the six-party talks’ resumption.
(The Japan Times, Feb. 15)