|Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do announces the inter-Korean agreement to hold high-level talks in the truce village of Panmunjeom on Wednesday. (Yonhap)|
The two Koreas will hold their first high-level talks in seven years on Wednesday, the Unification Ministry said Tuesday, as the North ramps up efforts to put their strained relations back on track.
The meeting will open at the truce village of Panmunjeom at 10:00 a.m. led by Kim Kyou-hyun, vice chief of the presidential National Security Office, and Won Dong-yon, deputy head of the United Front Department in the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.
The vice ministerial contact will mark the first high-level dialogue between the divided states since 2007. The talks were arranged following Pyongyang’s request on Saturday. North Korea asked a presidential official lead the Seoul delegation.
With no agenda set, each side would raise issues of concern, including the planned reunions of families separated by the Korean War from Feb. 20-25 at Mount Geumgangsan, the ministry said.
“At the talks, (the two sides) are expected to confer on key issues of interest including ways to ensure the smooth handling of the family reunions and (how to) make it a regular event,” ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do said at a news conference.
Kim Kyou-hyun, a former vice foreign minister who assumed the post just a week ago, faces the daunting task of untangling a web of longstanding cross-border issues including deep-rooted mistrust and the North’s nuclear program. His delegation will also include officials from the unification and defense ministries.
Last June, hopes for reconciliation quickly faded after a planned meeting fell apart over who should lead negotiations. Pyongyang’s request for a Cheong Wa Dae official apparently reflects its attempt to preclude such squabbling.
The surprise announcement comes as the Kim Jong-un regime ratchets up its peace offensive since the leader called for Seoul’s efforts to enhance inter-Korean ties in his New Year address.
“I think the Northern side is making efforts in all directions for progress,” a senior Seoul official told The Korea Herald, asking for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Sources of contention remain, however, including South Korea-U.S. annual military exercises slated to begin midway through the family reunion sessions. The North urged the allies to drop their plan, threatening to reconsider the agreement over the much-anticipated event.
A Unification Ministry official denied any behind-the-scenes contact or clandestine meetings, saying the two sides have communicated through the border and West Sea telephone lines since Pyongyang’s offer on Saturday.
“The North simply said its proposal is for a comprehensive consultation on matters between the two sides and did not mention any military issues,” he said on customary condition of anonymity.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)