Questions surround inter-Korean talks, projects

By Jung Min-kyung
  • Published : May 17, 2018 - 16:35
  • Updated : May 17, 2018 - 16:35

North Korea’s sudden postponement of talks with South Korea is raising concerns over planned inter-Korean projects and questions over whether Pyongyang will agree to another meeting.

The two Koreas initially agreed to hold a ministerial-level early Wednesday, but Pyongyang indefinitely postponed the talks, taking issue with the ongoing South Korea-US military exercise.
Families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War say goodbye to each other after a reunion held in 2015. (Joint Press Corps)

The matter was put to the National Security Council on Thursday, and Seoul’s top foreign affairs and security officials said that they would continue consulting with the North to hold high-level talks “at an early date.” The NSC also called on North Korea to faithfully implement agreements reached at the April 27 inter-Korean summit.

Wednesday’s talks were aimed at addressing imminent issues concerning both Koreas and to follow up on the Panmunjeom Declaration, which was jointly drawn up during last month’s summit.

The establishment of a joint liaison office in the North’s border town of Kaesong, arranging a reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, and initiating a reforestation project in North Korean were key agenda items that were expected to be discussed.

But among the agreements, the joint event marking the anniversary of the June 15 Joint Declaration in 2000, an outcome of the first inter-Korean summit, is the most urgent issue in terms of the timeframe. Seoul’s Unification Ministry on Thursday said it has formed a task force for the event to speed up preparations, alluding to the fact that the event is less than a month away.

“The high-level meeting should take place at least after the Max Thunder exercise wraps up or else it may be too late,” said Hong Min, a senior researcher for the Korean Institute for National Unification.

The two-week exercise kicked off Friday, involving some 100 warplanes, including eight F-22 stealth fighters and F-15K jets.

“The event for the June 15 Joint Declaration symbolizes the start of joint implementation of the Panmunjeom Declaration because it is the first on the list in terms of timeframe. If the North decides to skip talks for the event, it would damage the trust and ties between the two Koreas and would work as an obstacle for implementing other agreements as well,” the Seoul-based expert added.

But there are also less obvious obstacles that make it difficult to pinpoint the exact timeframe when the North will agree to come to the inter-Korean dialogue table.

Experts have pointed out that the actual reason behind the cancellation seems to be recent remarks by former North Korean diplomat and defector Thae Yong-ho who cast doubt on the North’s denuclearization and South Korea’s lack of action in containing it. The North criticized the South for allowing “human scum to hurl mud at the dignity of the supreme leadership,” in the same announcement it made through its state-run Korean Central News Agency.

“It is important that the allies make an announcement during next week’s South Korea-US summit that could help the North ease tensions and cooperate more,” Hong said.

The South delivered a message Wednesday urging the North to swiftly respond to high-level talks, but as of Thursday morning, it had yet to respond, according to a Unification Ministry official.

By Jung Min-kyung (