June 11, 2013 09:55
Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae is expected to lead the South Korean delegation at Wednesday's ministerial talks with North Korea if Pyongyang sends someone of comparative rank and responsibilities.
Seoul had asked the North to send Kim Yang-gon, who heads the Workers Party's United Front Department, which deals with inter-Korean matters, but received no commitment. If the North sends a lower-ranking official, Seoul will reciprocate in kind.
The decision was made in a meeting of foreign and national security ministers at Cheong Wa Dae on Monday chaired by President Park Geun-hye.
"The talks can't progress smoothly if we send a minister while the North sends a director-level official," a senior Cheong Wa Dae official said Monday. "The proper thing to do is to match the rank." The official added a mismatch in the ranks of the chief delegates would make it difficult for both sides to trust each other.
Seniority and rank remain enormously important in both Koreas.
North Korea has still not said who will head its delegation, but the government here does not believe that means it will cancel the talks. "If North Korea didn't want the talks, it would have canceled them already." a government official said. "We expect to get their list of delegates on Tuesday."
He added North Korea seems quite intent on reopening the joint-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex and resuming tours to Mt. Kumgang, which are important sources of revenue at this time of international sanctions.
Earlier, mid-ranking officials from the two sides met in the border truce village of Panmunjom to set the stage for the talks. They failed to agree on the agenda of the upcoming talks, including Pyongyang's demand that they jointly host events to mark the historic inter-Korean summit on June 15, 2000.
Because the North declined to commit to sending Kim Yang-gon, a relatively moderate senior figure in the regime, the meeting is now officially being referred to as "inter-Korean government talks" rather than "ministerial talks."
Chun Hae-sung of the Unification Ministry said, "The North proposed the term and Seoul agreed because we thought the aim is really to start a new era in inter-Korean relations."
Both delegations will have five members. The North Koreans will arrive overland.
Chun said it is unlikely the talks will resolve all issues of concern but are a first step. The only thing that has definitely been decided is the venue, the Grand Hilton Hotel in a northern suburb of the capital. This was also where the last inter-Korean ministerial talks were held in May 2007.
North and South Korean ministers met 21 times between July 2000 and May 2007, 11 times in South Korea at venues in Seoul and Jeju Island. The most popular venue was the Hotel Shilla in downtown Seoul, which hosted four rounds of talks, followed by the W Seoul Walker Hill Hotel in an eastern suburb. But the Shilla is undergoing renovation.
"The Grand Hilton has the advantage of being easy to guard," a government official said.
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