The two Koreas on Tuesday held their first talks in more than two years, with the South hoping to lay the foundation for further dialogue, while the North focused on its participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
South Korea’s delegation, led by Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon, and the North Korean delegation met at Panmunjeom at 10 a.m. The North Korean delegation was led by Ri Son-gwon, the chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country. CPRC is North Korea’s state agency handling inter-Korean affairs.
“I came to this meeting with a thought to hand a ‘precious result’ to our fellow people, who hold a great expectation,” Ri said at the start of the meeting. Ri also said the rare meeting was arranged upon “divine will,” on the back of “the hearts of the Korean people” and the “current situation.”
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, right, shakes hands with the head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon before their meeting at the Panmunjom in the DMZ in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (AP-Yonhap)
In response to Ri’s remarks, Cho said the South Korean people want to steer inter-Korean relations toward reconciliation and peace.
At the start of the talks, which involved a series of meetings, Seoul’s delegation requested military and Red Cross talks, as well as the resumption of the denuclearization talks, in addition to matters relating to the games.
“(Seoul’s delegation) suggested holding family reunions in February to mark Seollal, and to hold Red Cross talks for this end,” South Korea’s Vice Minister of Unification Chun Hae-sung said.
“Military talks to prevent clashes were also suggested. In addition, cooperation based on mutual respect to end actions that raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula and the need to resume dialogue to establish peace including denuclearization (talks) were expressed.”
The sun rises over a barbed wire fence near the Unification Bridge, which leads to the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (AP-Yonhap)
PyeongChang-related issues raised by the South include arranging for the joint entrance of the two sides’ teams at the opening ceremony, and a request for the North to send a delegation and cheering squad in addition to athletes.
The initial meeting, involving all delegation members, lasted just over an hour, before breaking at 11:05 a.m. The talks resumed at 11:30 a.m., then just between the chief delegates.
The two sides held another four meetings that excluded the chief delegates, during which practical issues including fine-tuning of the joint press statement on the talks were discussed.
While the atmosphere is said to have been “serious and sincere,” the North Korean delegation avoided referencing concrete plans for inter-Korean relations.
According to the Unification Ministry, the North did not react nor refer to the South’s suggestions regarding military talks and denuclearization.
Instead, the North Korean delegation focused mainly on the Olympics, saying only that they were willing to use the meeting to create opportunities for “fruitful dialogue.”
Regarding the North’s participation at the games, the North Korean delegation said that a press corps, cheering squad, taekwondo exhibition team and high-level delegation would be sent in addition to its athletes.
“North Korea has guaranteed peace on the Korean Peninsula, talked about promoting reconciliation among the Korean people and solving issues surrounding the South and the North through dialogue and negotiations,” Chun said.
Although apparently guarded at the Panmunjeom talks, the North appears to be taking an active approach to reviving inter-Korean communications.
During the talks, the North informed the South that it had re-established the West Sea military hotline.
The line, installed in 2009, was cut off after the inter-Korean Kaesong industrial park was shut down in 2016. The East Sea hotline was lost in a wildfire in 2010.
Seoul’s presidential office, which welcomed Pyongyang’s decision to hold the meeting as a sign of thawing inter-Korean relations and the first step in improving communications, took a more cautious approach.
Cheong Wa Dae has so far refrained from commenting on the meeting, saying only that confirming North Korea’s participation in the games is the main objective at present.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org
), Jung Min-kyung (email@example.com
) & Joint Press Corps