The two Koreas, which did not make any agreement despite 14 hours of talks Wednesday, have agreed to meet again on Friday. Seoul officials said North Korea sent a message Thursday to request a second round of discussions, one day after the two sides held high-level talks for the first time in seven years.
After the first round, Seoul officials said that they had failed to reach any agreement and that the meeting only helped the two sides understand each other’s positions on pending issues between them. Such comments by negotiators usually mean there were a lot of differences.
In fact, the officials said North Korea, among other things, took issue with the annual South Korea-U.S. military exercises and South Korean media’s criticism of its leader Kim Jong-un.
The North demanded that the joint military drills, set to begin Feb. 24, be delayed until after the family reunions planned for Feb. 20-25. Seoul officials said that it was not clear whether North Korean negotiators threatened to cancel altogether the family reunions unless the South accepts its demand.
But it raised worries that the North may repeat what it did last September, when Pyongyang canceled family reunions just a few days before the participants were to travel to meet at North Korea’s Mount Geumgangsan.
Seoul officials said the North also made it clear that it would not discuss with the South its nuclear weapons development program. Pyongyang insisted that it should tackle the Korean denuclearization issue with the U.S.
It is hardly surprising that the South and the North are set apart on those and other issues, as it was the first time senior government officials had sat face to face since 2007. It was the year when then-President Roh Moo-hyun visited Pyongyang for summit talks with Kim Jong-il.
But, the two sides, the North specifically, should try to keep the momentum for dialogue going. In fact, the talks, proposed by the North, raised some hopes that the two Koreas would come back to the negotiating table to tackle the many problems between the two sides.
On the surface, the North’s request for the talks seemed to be in line with its recent peace offensive toward the South. The talks took place after leaders of the two Koreas expressed their hopes to improve relations. Kim Jong-un said in a New Year’s message that he wants to improve relations with South Korea. President Park responded in time, making her now-famous statement that unification would bring a “bonanza.”
As the Koreas have decided to continue talks, they should work together to improve their bilateral relations. But at the same time, we in the South should not drop our guard against the North’s ulterior motives. We are all familiar with the North’s track record in dealing with South Korea and the U.S. At least, we hope next week’s family reunions will proceed without any problems.