SEOUL: North Korea on Tuesday described recent high-level talks with the South as a waste of time and a step backwards for cross-border relations, as both sides continued to blame each other for the dialogue’s failure.
The vice minister-level discussions on ways to improve ties — the first of their kind for nearly two years — ended Saturday night after two days of marathon negotiations, with no agreement and no commitment to meet again.
“The talks … produced a result that is worse than having no talks at all and the prospect of the inter-Korea relations became even bleaker,” the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) — which handles cross-border ties — said in a statement.
Both sides have already traded accusations of blame for the failure of the talks, which underlined the depth of mutual mistrust and antagonism between the two rivals.
The North had focused on resuming lucrative, long-suspended South Korean tours to its scenic Mount Kumgang resort, while Seoul’s priority was to discuss setting up regular reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
The CPRK statement, carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency, accused the South Korean side of being condescending and framing Pyongyang’s demands as an attempt to extract economic benefits.
“It is an intolerable provocation,” it said, adding that Seoul had thrown away “a rare opportunity to improve relations.”
South Korea suspended the Kumgang tours in 2008 after a female tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard.
South Korea estimates that the North was pulling in between $50-70 million a year from the tours during the decade in which they operated.
Officials in Seoul believe Pyongyang’s desire to resume the tours reflects a desperation to secure hard currency sources in the face of international sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons and missile programs.
Analysts say it would also provide leader Kim Jong-Un with a useful propaganda victory to trumpet at a full ruling party Congress next May—the first such conclave for 35 years.
“The North Korean side was focused solely on the resumption of Mount Kumgang tourism. It was their only priority,” an official with the Unification Ministry in Seoul said Tuesday while briefing reporters on the failure of the recent talks.
“They just wanted the tours to resume with no strings attached,” he said, adding that the North Korean side had refused to entertain requests to guarantee the safety of South Korean tourists.
“We expect and hope that North Korea will come back to the dialogue table after giving consideration to our thoughts and opinions.
“It might take time though,” he said.