SEOUL, South Korea: Government delegates from North andSouth Korea held a marathon session of preparatory talks Sunday at a “truce village” on their heavily armed border aimed at setting ground rules for a higher-level discussion on easing animosity and restoring stalled rapprochement projects.
The meeting at Panmunjom, where the armistice agreement ending fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War was signed, was the first of its kind on the Korean Peninsula in more than two years. Success will be judged on whether the delegates can pave the way for a meeting between the ministers of each country’s department for cross-border affairs. Such ministerial talks haven’t happened since 2007.
South Korea has proposed they take place Wednesday in Seoul.
There was still no agreement early Monday morning, more than 15 hours after the delegates began discussions Sunday morning, although South Korean officials earlier seemed confident that they would eventually work out an accord on the ministerial talks.
The South Korean Unification Ministry, which is in charge of North Korea matters, sent reporters a brief text early Monday saying an agreement is being delayed because of an unspecified disagreement over the agenda. But there was no elaboration and it was unclear if a new round of talks would be held Monday.
The intense media interest in the bureaucrats’ meeting is an indication of how bad relations between the Koreas have been. Any dialogue is an improvement on the belligerence that has marked the relationship over recent months and years.
Earlier this year, North Korea threatened nuclear war, claimed that the Korean War armistice was void, closed a jointly run factory park and vowed to ramp up production of nuclear bomb fuel. That followed a North Korean nuclear test and long-range rocket launches and, earlier, attacks blamed on the North that killed 50 South Koreans in 2010.
“Today’s working-level talks will be a chance to take care of administrative and technical issues in order to successfully host the ministers’ talks,” one of the South Korean delegates, Unification Policy Officer Chun Hae-sung, said in Seoul early Sunday before the group’s departure for Panmunjom.
He said the southern delegation will keep in mind “that the development of South and North Korean relations starts from little things and gradual trust-building.”
The delegates in the morning discussed the agenda for the ministerial meeting, location, date, the number of participants and how long they will stay in Seoul, if the meeting is held there, said the Unification Ministry.
Reporters weren’t allowed at the venue.