SEOUL: North and South Korean officials sat down to their highest level talks for years on Wednesday, seeking an upswing in ties despite a bitter row over looming South Korea-United States military exercises
The discussions in the border truce village of Panmunjom had no fixed agenda, but aimed to cover a range of “major” issues, including a planned February 20 to 25 reunion for family members divided by the Korean War.
The South delegation was led by top National Security Council official Kim Kyou-Hyun, who said Seoul’s focus was on ensuring that the reunion went ahead as scheduled.
The North side is likely to make another push for South Korea to cancel its annual military drills with the United States, which are slated to begin February 24.
Kim said he was entering the talks with “an open attitude to explore the chance of opening a new chapter on the Korean peninsula.”
He did not mention whether North Korea’s nuclear program would be discussed.
It was the first such high-level sit-down between the two sides since 2007, and came a day before US Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival in Seoul for a brief visit focused on North Korea.
The North wants to resume talks with Seoul and Washington on nuclear matters, but both have insisted that Pyongyang must first make a tangible commitment to abandoning nuclear weapons.
The Panmunjom meet was requested by Pyongyang and made front-page headlines in the South.
But it barely merited a mention in the North’s state media, with the official KCNA news agency putting out a one-line despatch on Wednesday.
The morning session lasted 90 minutes, with the two sides reconvening after lunch on the South side of the border village where the armistice ending the 1950-1953 Korean conflict was signed 60 years ago.