|Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae speaks at a parliamentary committee on Thursday. (Yonhap)|
The two Koreas will reopen talks on Friday on the planned reunions of separated families after their first high-level dialogue in seven years ended with no agreement due to differences over upcoming Seoul-Washington military drills, the Unification Ministry said Thursday.
The meeting will start at the border village of Panmunjeom at 10:00 a.m., led by Kim Kyou-hyun, vice chief of the South’s presidential National Security Office, and Won Dong-yon, deputy head of the United Front Department of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.
During their marathon 12-hour negotiation session on Wednesday, Pyongyang demanded a delay of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises until after the event. But Seoul dismissed this as unacceptable, urging its northern neighbor not to link the military programs with a humanitarian issue. The joint drills will begin on Feb. 24, about halfway through the family reunions scheduled for Feb. 20-25.
The consultations followed the North’s offer of a fresh round of talks earlier in the day. It initially asked to meet on Thursday at 3 p.m.
“Tomorrow’s discussions will succeed yesterday’s,” a Unification Ministry official told reporters on customary condition of anonymity. “The agreement must be kept because it’s about separated families, which is a humanitarian matter. We will strive to ensure that the event takes place without a problem.”
As the reunions draw nearer, concerns are mushrooming over another cancelation or delay.
The North’s last-minute cancelation last September of what would have been the first family reunions in more than three years enraged Cheong Wa Dae, which shot back with unusually stringent criticism, calling the decision “inhumane.”
The ministry said the preparations are going smoothly, with some 70 officials and engineers staying at Mount Geumgangsan and another 44 slated to arrive later in the day.
Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said his agency plans to dispatch an advance team on Saturday as agreed.
“(During the Wednesday dialogue) we emphasized successful family reunions as the first step toward the improvement of inter-Korean relations,” he told the National Assembly.
The mood appeared frosty given the abrupt conclusion of the much-trumpeted talks, with no face-to-face farewell. In the past, the two sides would usually have a closing session and exchange handshakes.
Touching upon the North’s nuclear program, the South called for action to prove its sincerity toward denuclearization but the North refused to confer on the issue, the ministry official said.
“The North’s side said it is also pursuing denuclearization as a precept of (national founder) Kim Il-sung, but added that basically it is not an issue to be dealt with between the two Koreas,” he added.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org