June 10, 2013 09:18
Mid-ranking North and South Korean officials met in the border truce village of Panmunjom and on Sunday to prepare the stage for ministerial talks that follow Wednesday.
Ministers from both sides met 21 times between July 2000 and June 2007 but not since then.
Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk gave little away about the preparatory meeting, saying only officials "shared the same understanding in regards to the ministers' meeting."
The main disagreement seems to be over personalities. Seoul wanted as delegation leader Kim Yang-gon, who is a relatively moderate key figure in inter-Korean issues, but Pyongang refused to reveal who is going to be their chief representative.
When it came to the agenda, the North Korean negotiators insisted that the ministers must discuss the reopening of the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex, resumption of halted tours to the North's scenic Mt. Kumgang resort, reunion of families separated by the Korean War and joint hosting of ceremonies marking the historic inter-Korean summit on June 15, 2000.
South Korean negotiators were apparently less keen on the last point since it is not clear what the celebrations are in aid of and because there is no time to prepare for them.
The South Korean team was led by Chun Hae-sung of the Unification Ministry, and the North’s by Kim Song-hye of the equivalent organization, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.
The meeting started at 10 a.m. and continued until midnight, with general meetings interspersed with one-on-one talks among officials.
The ministers are expected to meet for two days because the preparatory talks “revealed that one day is not enough,” a Unification Ministry official said.
If the ministerial talks go ahead, President Park Geun-hye may welcome the North Korean delegation, according to Cheong Wa Dae sources.
Although the contact would be unofficial, it could offer an opportunity for Park to receive any personal communication from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and create a friendly climate.
North Korean officials who came here usually paid courtesy visits to presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, who backed the Sunshine Policy of rapprochement and had met then-leader Kim Jong-il. Ex-president Lee Myung-bak's tenure saw few exchanges but he met a group of officials who came to Seoul for Kim Dae-jung's funeral in August 2009.
These precedents suggest Park will also want to meet the North Koreans, especially if Kim Yang-gon comes, since he is an important figure in the regime.
Ruling-party and Cheong Wa Dae officials seemed at sea over the question since Park notoriously keeps her cards close to her chest.
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