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[Editorial] Inter-Korean talks

The two sides need to be more flexible

South and North Korea will hold a working-level meeting on Nov. 26 to prepare for high-level government talks. The two sides need to sit at the negotiating table with common sense and an open mind to arrange the proposed government-level talks at an early date.

The Thursday talks are a follow-up to the landmark Aug. 25 inter-Korean deal, which was concluded to end a military standoff over the North’s land mine attack in early August. Two South Korean soldiers were maimed by the incident that took place near the border.

The deal has set the stage for the two Koreas to exert joint efforts toward thawing the frozen Seoul-Pyongyang ties. For instance, the two sides arranged late last month reunions of families separated by the Korean War.

To strengthen the newfound momentum for reconciliation, the two Koreas need to hold government-level talks at an early date. At the Thursday talks, the two sides are expected to discuss the timing, venue and agenda of the planned high-level government dialogue.

As for the timing, the two sides are advised to start talks within this year in light of their political schedules early next year. The South will hold general elections in April, while in the North a congress of the Workers’ Party is slated for May.

Regarding the agenda for the high-level talks, the North is expected to raise the issue of resuming the stalled Mount Geumgangsan tour program. It could also call on the South to lift the economic sanctions imposed on May 24, 2010, following the North’s destruction of a South Korean Navy vessel.

On the part of the South, the most pressing issue is holding family reunions on a regular basis and allowing separated families to exchange letters.

The two sides need to discuss these and other issues with flexibility at the government-level meeting to provide a breakthrough in bilateral relations.

One important matter that needs to be discussed at the working-level talks is who will represent the two sides at the high-level dialogue.

This is not a serious issue in nature if the two sides discuss it with common sense. But the North’s lack of common sense scuttled the proposed inter-Korean high-level talks in June 2013. At the time, the North insisted that the South’s chief negotiator be a minister-level official, while it appointed a vice minister-level official to lead its delegation.

The North should come to the negotiating table with this kind of nonsensical attitude left behind if it is really serious about holding government-level talks.

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