|Kim Kyou-hyun, the South’s chief negotiator and vice security chief, speaks at a press briefing in the Government Complex in Seoul, Friday. (Yonhap)|
The two Koreas agreed Friday to hold a new round of reunions of families separated by the Korean War and halt slander as a first step to building mutual trust.
At the second round of the first high-level inter-Korean dialogue since 2007, senior officials from each side also pledged to continue discussions over pending issues, make “active efforts” for better relations and meet again soon.
The meeting opened at the truce village of Panmunjeom to iron out differences over South Korea-U.S. military drills which the North had cited as a barrier for the much-awaited event slated for Feb. 20-25.
“The two sides concurred on the need to hold the family reunions without any problem and enhance inter-Korean relations through long hours of candid conversations,” said Kim Kyou-hyun, the South’s chief negotiator and vice chief of Cheong Wa Dae’s National Security Office.
“It is significant that we have taken the first step toward the development of inter-Korean ties through the first high-level talks in the (Park Geun-hye) government.”
The North’s state media also struck an upbeat tone on the agreement.
“During the meeting, both sides affirmed their resolve to open a new era in national unity, peace and prosperity, and independent unification by improving North-South relations,” the Korean Central News Agency said.
The agreement marks a change in Pyongyang’s stance toward the Seoul-Washington military exercises.
Throughout the negotiations since Wednesday, the North’s delegation led by Won Dong-yon, deputy head of the United Front Department of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, called for a delay of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle scheduled to begin on Feb. 24 until after the family gathering.
But Seoul rejected the demand, saying the two issues cannot be linked.
The North initially resisted at the latest talks as well, Kim said, but displayed a more cooperative attitude later on as the South repeatedly stressed the event as key to Park’s “trustpolitik” approach aimed at reengaging Pyongyang while deterring its security threat.
“We tried to persuade them, saying that the South and North should build trust to activate in earnest the president’s peninsula trust-building process, and that the family reunion would be the first step in that,” Kim told a news conference.
“Today’s agreement entails no condition whatsoever. … Though the reunion and military training periods overlap, I don’t think that the North would raise issue.”
Alongside the military drills, slander was another key feature in Pyongyang’s “crucial proposals” last month.
The communist state has been urging the South to block negative news reports about its regime. Seoul dismissed the demand as “impossible.”
By agreeing to cease slander, the two sides will better understand each other and help foster trust, Kim said.
“For our part, we reiterated that we don’t do such a thing (slander) on any government level, and will never engage in media control because the freedom of press is a foundation of our society,” he added.
With the breakthrough in family reunions, hopes are rising over a thaw in cross-border relations.
The Kim Jong-un regime has been intensifying its peace offensive since the young leader called for the improvement of the relationship in his New Year address.
Though Seoul initially suspected Pyongyang’s overtures as a prelude to a military provocation, it has recently displayed a more forward-looking attitude as the two sides made progress on the issues of separated families and a joint factory park in the North’s border city of Gaeseong.
By Shin Hyon-hee (email@example.com