2 Koreas in Marathon Talks to Ease Standoff

      August 24, 2015 09:36

      North and South Korea held a second round of high-level talks on Sunday in the border truce village of Panmunjom continuing marathon negotiations through the previous night to defuse tensions triggered when two soldiers were maimed by mines planted by the North.

      Four senior officials from the two sides met for about 10 hours starting at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday but did not reach any agreement. The first round adjourned in the small hours of Sunday and the second round started 3:30 p.m. the same day.

      The two Koreas agreed to the rare talks just four hours before the 5 p.m. Saturday deadline the North had set for the South to remove new propaganda loudspeakers along border or face military action.

      High-ranking officials from two Koreas shake hands in a meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom on Saturday. /Courtesy of the Ministry of Unification

      North Korea abruptly proposed the talks Friday. Cheong Wa Dae responded the same day by inviting Hwang Pyong-so, the top military aide to leader Kim Jong-un, to a meeting.

      The two sides reached no agreement as talks continued for the second day. North Korea was dead set on getting South Korea to halt the propaganda broadcasts. A government official said Sunday, "The North Korean side avoided mentioning of the landmine provocation that prompted the resumption of the propaganda broadcasts, and simply demanded an end to the broadcasts."

      Seoul demanded an apology from Pyongyang for the mine attacks, but the North did not budge. An intelligence official said, "It appears Hwang Pyong-so and Kim Yang-gon came to the meeting with firm orders from Kim Jong-un to focus on the propaganda broadcasts alone."

      The North, true to form, denied having anything to do with the box mines, and Seoul reiterated that the broadcasts cannot end without an apology.

      "The stalemate has made it difficult for other issued to be resolved," a government official here said. "Yet all North Korea has to do is apologize, and a broad range of agreements on inter-Korean projects could be reached."

      But a faint silver lining is that the North Korean did not walk out of the talks. Pyongyang has few options as it faces pressure from its sole ally Beijing to refrain from aggression and also seemed keen not to shoulder the blame if the talks break down.

      North Korean officials apparently dangled before the South a possible fresh round of reunions of families separated by the Korean War and other cross-border projects.

      Meanwhile, some experts say North Korea proposed the talks when it became clear that its past blackmail tactics no longer wash. But others warn the talks may be a diversionary tactic as the North prepares for other provocations.

      One researcher at a state-run think tank said North Korea "could just be buying time to prepare other attacks while taking credit for initiating negotiations."

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