The two Koreas have agreed to break ground for the modernization of cross-border railways and roads in late November or early December, said a statement released by South Korea’s Unification Ministry on Monday.
The statement came as a result of high-level talks held Monday to discuss the implementation of the agreement reached at last month’s inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang.
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon met with Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, in a meeting that kicked off at around 10 a.m. at the truce village of Panmunjom.
Regarding the railway project, both sides agreed to conduct a joint survey for the Gyeongui Line, which runs along the west coast of the Korean Peninsula, from late October, and the Donghae Line, along the east coast, from early October.
Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (right) shakes hands with South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon at the truce village of Panmunjom on Monday. (Yonhap)
Regarding the connection of cross-border roads, the two countries decided to exchange documents to decide on further details, including the itinerary.
According to the statement, they plan to hold a Red Cross meeting in November on the North’s eastern slopes of Kumgangsan to discuss details on video meetings and exchanges of messages between families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. The North’s scenic mountain has often served as a venue for the reunions of separated families, including the latest event held in August.
Details on plans to field a united team at the 2020 Olympics and file a bid to jointly host the 2032 Olympics will be discussed at a sports meeting to be held at the recently launched joint liaison office in the border town of Kaesong.
The South and North also shared the view that general-level military talks should be held as soon as possible to push for the establishment of a joint military committee. A time frame for the military talks was not given in the statement, but Cho explained in a press briefing after the meeting that specifics would be discussed following the wrap-up of an ongoing landmine removal operation later this month.
In September, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed an agreement following their third summit in Pyongyang to bolster cross-border cooperation and exchanges in various areas. They shared the view that the Korean Peninsula should become a safe region without nuclear weapons.
The agreement also called for the two Koreas to break ground for the reconnection of two sets of cross-border roads and railways by the end of the year.
The resumption of an on-site survey for modernization of cross-border railways and roads was expected to be a key agenda item at the meeting, with progress on the railway project stalled following the United Nations Command’s decision in August to decline South Korea’s request to test-run a train on a cross-border railway. The UNC said it needed “more fidelity on the details” of the submitted proposal. The move had fueled speculation that the US was reluctant to support inter-Korean projects amid a lack of progress in Washington-Pyongyang denuclearization talks.
Asked how the Seoul government will deal with the issue with the UNC, Cho emphasized that it is closely discussing the matter with the UNC.
With the US focusing on maintaining its pressure campaign against the North, skeptics are doubtful that high-level talks will remove all of the existing stumbling blocks in the railway project. Concerns over possible sanctions violations surround the project, with its perceived role of laying the groundwork for other inter-Korean economic projects.
The meeting comes amid signs that Washington and Pyongyang are resuming talks concerning the North’s denuclearization following a monthslong stalemate. They earlier agreed to hold a second summit between President Donald Trump and Kim “at the earliest possible date.” Their first summit took place in Singapore
“(We) should work hard to produce results that people would be happy with by agreeing quickly on detailed and practical methods to swiftly implement the September Pyongyang Declaration,” Cho said at the start of the meeting.
Wrapping-up Monday’s talks, Ri called Monday’s talks “productive” and noted that though it is crucial to reach agreements at such inter-Korean meetings, the implementation of the agreements will determine the speed of improvement of inter-Korean relations.
Cho agreed with Ri, acknowledging the importance of implementation.
Cho led a five-member delegation including Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung, Vice Land and Transport Minister Kim Jeong-ryeol, Vice Sports Minister Roh Tae-gang and Director-General Ahn Moon-hyun from the Prime Minister’s Office, the ministry said.
The North Korean delegation also initially consisted of five members -- with Ri as head of the group -- but two more officials joined at the last minute. Jon Jong-su, vice chairman of the North’s Committee for Peaceful Reunification, and Hwang Chung-song, a senior official at the committee.
The original members of the North’s delegation were Vice Railroad Minister Kim Yun-hyok, Vice Minister for Land and Environment Protection Pak Ho-yong and Vice Sports Minister Won Kil-u.
By Jung Min-kyung & Joint Press Corps (firstname.lastname@example.org