The two Koreas failed to reach an agreement during their first high-level talks in seven years on Wednesday due to differences over planned Seoul-Washington military drills.
Senior officials from the two sides met at the truce village of Panmunjeom to discuss pending issues ahead of reunions of separate families slated for Feb. 20-25.
During the 12-hour marathon talks, the North “constantly demanded” Seoul’s postponement of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises until after the event. The joint South Korea-U.S. drills are scheduled to begin Feb. 24.
Seoul rejected the request, calling the North‘s attempt to link the two separate issues unjustifiable, the Unification Ministry said in a statement.
The North also urged the South to curb negative news reports about the Kim Jong-un regime.
Seoul, for its part, explained about President Park Geun-hye’s “trustpolitik” vision aimed at reengaging Pyongyang while deterring its security threat. Seoul delegates stressed that a successful family reunion at the North’s Mount Geumgangsan would be the first step toward improving ties, the ministry said.
“While sympathizing with the fundamental purpose of our Korean Peninsula trust-building process, the North’s side demanded that we agree to cease mutual slander and hostile military acts, which were included in its ‘crucial proposals’ and ‘open letter’ (last month),” the ministry said.
“We maintained that the family reunion, which is a pure humanitarian matter, should not be linked with military issues.”
The vice ministerial meeting was 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 North’s potent National Defense Commission on Saturday first proposed the talks with a request that a presidential official lead the Seoul delegation.
The first senior-level meeting since the incumbent leaders came to power in both countries raised hopes that the two Koreas would put the frayed ties on track.
Last June, a planned high-level meeting was aborted after they bickered over the ranks of lead negotiators.
Pyongyang’s request for a Cheong Wa Dae official this time around apparently reflects its intention to avoid such squabbling.
Though Seoul initially suspected the North’s repeated overtures as a move to build logic for a military provocation, it has recently displayed a more active attitude as the two sides made progress on the issues of separate families and a joint factory park in the North’s border city of Gaeseong.
The communist state has been stepping up its peace offensive since leader Kim Jong-un called for the improvement of inter-Korean ties in his New Year address.
Wednesday‘s meeting gained particular traction as it came one day before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s two-day trip to Seoul.
North Korea is expected to top the agenda for talks between Kerry and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se. The two allies are intensifying consultations on the political situation in the communist country in the wake of the execution of Kim’s powerful uncle in December.
Beijing welcomed the inter-Korean meeting, expressing hopes for a positive outcome.
“China constantly supports that the two Koreas improve relations through dialogue and pursue reconciliation and cooperation,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters earlier in the day.
“We hope that both sides make greater efforts for better relations so as to substantially ease the situation on the peninsula.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)