North and South Korea hold rare high-level talks

 

The talks are taking place ahead of South Korea's annual military exercises with the US, as Lucy Williamson reports

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North and South Korea have held their highest level talks in years, exploring ways to improve their tense relations.

Two rounds of meetings - requested by Pyongyang - took place at the border village of Panmunjom. More may follow.

There has been no word on how the talks went. Family reunions planned for this month were expected to be discussed, but the agenda was left open.

Pyongyang has threatened to cancel the reunions because of annual South Korea-US military exercises due in February.

China, Pyongyang's main ally, welcomed the talks, the highest-level meeting with the North and South have held since 2007.

The BBC's Lucy Williamson, who was at the border area, says the delegations appeared to greet each other cordially.

The two sides met for 90 minutes in the morning at South Korea's side of Panmunjom and then reconvened for three hours in the afternoon, after which the two chief delegates held one-to-one discussions.

Analysis

South Korean officials say they were pleasantly surprised when North Korea's invitation arrived. It is the first time in more than six years, they say, that a meeting at this level has taken place. A similar attempt last year fell victim to a spat over protocol, but this time both sides appear more willing to talk.

The meeting comes after weeks of pointed diplomatic overtures by Pyongyang that have raised hopes in some quarters that the mood on the peninsula is changing.

But others point out that previous North Korean charm offensives have been followed by renewed confrontation, and that Pyongyang's new cordiality has come with a warning: that the joint military exercises scheduled to take place this month between the US and South Korea are incompatible with friendlier inter-Korean ties.

'Open mind'

South Korea's Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Kyou-hyun is leading Seoul's delegation at the Panmunjom talks.

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Kim said: "This is an opportunity to open a new era of the Korean peninsula.

"I would like to attend the meeting with 'open attitude and mind' to study the opportunity.

"We will make an effort to proceed with the separated families reunion event as agreed," he added.

North Korea's delegation is being headed by Won Tong-yon, a senior official specialising in inter-Korean ties, South Korean officials said.

In a news conference in Geneva on Tuesday, North Korea's ambassador to the UN, So Se-pyong, spoke of the need to terminate all hostile military actions, which he described as the main obstacles to peace.

He called for the US and South Korea to suspend their planned military exercises, describing them as "of a sinister and dangerous nature".

The two Koreas are due to hold reunions of families, divided by the partitioning of the Korean Peninsula at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, for five days from 20 February.

The last such reunions took place in 2010. But these reunions coincide with the start of the US-South Korea joint military drills - annual exercises that anger North Korea.

The drills last year led to a prolonged rise in tensions, as North Korea threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes and withdrew its workers from a joint industrial zone.

Many in South Korea see Pyongyang's reaction as a test of its new approach, the BBC's Lucy Williamson in Seoul reports.

Last week Pyongyang threatened to cancel the family reunions, warning that "dialogue and exercises of war" could not go hand-in-hand.

More than the talks, the exercises are for many people the real test of whether Pyongyang's charm offensive is a sign of change, or simply a prelude to more confrontation, our correspondent says.

 

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 45.

    I've just been told off for humming the theme tune to M*A*S*H (quite loudly) while reading this story.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 44.

    My wish is for the poor North Koreans to enjoy life as their southern neighbours, have the freedom of a true democracy, and become part of real world living that they are entitled to live in.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 43.

    Finally. Hopefully the South sees the ways of the North and we have a reunion.

    I think we are all sick and tired of the way the North is treated by the South and the way they have been persecuted for years in order to paint them as an evil nation.

    A reunion - good for the east. Bad for the west

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 42.

    saintsince65 @ 37
    "Perhaps you should think about the thousands of prisoners suffering in camps at the hands of this horrible little dictator and his objectionable regime before you tell them to take care... go and read about them"

    Where?

    BBC?

    Fox news?

    Blogs?

    I'm sure that NK does some of these things - but so what?

    Which country has the highest prisoners/population in the world?

    Read up.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 41.

    Good...keep the peaceful talk to solve the old issue.

    Wow, just read

    Scottish independence: George Osborne to 'rule out currency union'

    George, this is not a good way to solve the old issue

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 40.

    If the US and South Korea did not hold deliberately provocative military exercises maybe more progress would be made a lot sooner. The last thing the US wants is any reconciliation between North and South Korea because it will hamper their military build up in the region.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 39.

    Brilliant.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 38.

    Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?

    A: North Korea's missiles can't reach that far.

    But seriously, if this happens it is good, if it doesn't then things will remain the same. As much as we would all like to be heroes and initiate world peace it simply can't happen with some countries. That doesn't make these talks pointless... small talk better than no talk.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 37.

    33. qqpp
    Perhaps you should think about the thousands of prisoners suffering in camps at the hands of this horrible little dictator and his objectionable regime before you tell them to take care... go and read about them

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 36.

    13. Truth logic sustainability the final frontiers

    N Korea is worse than Saddam, Gadaffi & Assad rolled into 1 - murdering scumbags

    They maybe murdering scumbags but that doesn't bother western governments, Saddam was killed for not trading oil in petrodollars, Gaddafi was executed for proposing an African currency backed by gold and the West want to covertly seize control of Assad's Syria.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 35.

    @25.lechaise

    .... To those who think this serves a purpose for the US, do you really think they have nothing better to do than waste resources there? The North have always been the aggressors: fact.
    ___

    A ''Fact'' eh? Hmm...

    Here's another ''fact'' then: this relentless game's been playing for 6 decades .. virtually ZERO political effort has been expended by ANYONE to resolve this peacefully

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 34.

    The children! Won't somebody think of the children!

  • rate this
    +17

    Comment number 33.

    Am I the only one who is beginning to understand that the US is at war with the rest of world, even it's so-called 'friends'.

    Just the sight of Kerry sends shivers down my spine wondering what diatribe he is about deliver.

    Likewise the UN, the once revered stabilising force has now been totally overrun by US puppets and operating under threat of fund withdrawal.

    Take care NK!

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 32.

    26. Essex Serpent

    The US and SK are still formally at war with NK and technically so is the British. There was never a formal truce or settlement. It makes sense in a war zone to not lose "War Skills". When real peace is declared then practice peace skills.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 31.

    @Essex Serpent "Why are the U.S. staging military exercises with South Korea in the region?
    The U.S. must surely know how volatile relations are with these neighbours?"
    Perhaps you rememember a little thing called the Korean war which started when the North invaded the South, lasted 3 years and cost more than 2 million lives? As long as the Americans act as a deterrent here then they can stay

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 30.

    27.Lyndon Roberts
    I believe USA went in first. Also, USA fighting for human rights? Don't make me laugh. If you believe that, you must believe the marines are about to land on Gbay.
    NK needs aid, maybe, as for international help, hopefully China's recent boom could show NK what potential they got. Someone in the military must take the lead & topple the current gov - no INTERVENTION please.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 29.

    21.Nick Funnell

    Bet you have never left your village never mind your county or country of origin!

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 28.

    why give them air time?? let them rot . N.K unified with the south lol only when pigs fly backwards or the north discover oil

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 27.

    If other countries stopped wading in (China, USA etc), I wonder where the process would be to date.
    I also wonder, considering the human rights records of DPRK ( and Russia, China etc), how the USA pick their fights and how they topple 'tyrants' in the Middle East but not the likes of Kim, Mugabe etc.
    Still, you know what they say about Superpowers in glass houses......

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 26.

    Why are the U.S. staging military exercises with South Korea in the region?
    The U.S. must surely know how volatile relations are with these neighbours?
    I don't recall the U.S. carrying out military exercises with the British off the coast of Ireland during the troubles.

 

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