What Next for Inter-Korean Relations?

      February 11, 2011 12:15

      North Korea on Thursday blamed South Korea for the collapse of preliminary military talks. In a statement the delegates to the talks that ended Wednesday said they "no longer felt the need to associate with" South Korea.

      Seoul made no direct response. Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said, "Anyway, we're keeping the door open."

      U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the North blew the chance to show it is sincere. "It is an important opportunity for North Korea to demonstrate its sincerity and willingness to engage in dialogue, and understand that the one delegation walked out today. It's hard at this point to really assess what the meaning of that is," he said. "And clearly, having North Korea walking out puts them in the category of a missed opportunity."

      Some North Korea experts speculate that after a cooling-off period, the North will knock on the door again, but others believe this could lead to fresh military provocations like the attacks on the Navy corvette Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island last year.

      ◆ Military Talks

      The statement revived the expression "the South Korean traitorous clique," shorthand for the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration, which it had refrained from using since Jan. 5. A Unification Ministry official said this suggests "that the charm offensive is over for the time being."

      Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, speculated, "After a cooling-off period, the North will propose another round of military talks." The statement was issued not by the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces, which had proposed the talks, but in the name of the North Korean delegation to the talks. "This leaves room for further working-level talks," he added.

      A Foreign Ministry official also said that the North needs to show to the U.S. and China "that it's trying to expand inter-Korean cooperation in non-military sectors after starting dialogue with the South in the military sector, so it can't give up on military talks altogether."

      ◆ Other Talks

      The Unification Ministry official pointed out that the North has sent scores of faxes since last month to South Korean civic organizations calling for talks. "If the North is really serious about dialogue, there are many other ways than military talks to continue the charm offensive," he said.

      Since January, the North has proposed Red Cross talks, talks on Mt. Kumgang package tours, and talks on the joint Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex, and parliamentary talks, in addition to military talks, Prof. Kim Keun-sik of Kyungnam University pointed out. "There still is a chance that the North will propose non-military talks in a bid to show sincerity to the U.S. and China."

      ◆ Military Provocations

      The North Korean delegation attempted to set a date around Kim Jong-il's birthday on Feb. 16 for high-level military talks, apparently to achieve something for the event, another Unification Ministry official said. "They may have been angry because their attempt was frustrated."

      "Nobody knows when the North will change abruptly again," a security official said. "The North has a knack for catching us off guard. We still can't rule out that it may conduct another nuclear test." Prof. Kim predicted the North will choose to launch a fresh attack if the U.S. continues to support the Lee Myung-bak administration amid strained inter-Korean relation after the collapse of preliminary military talks on Wednesday.

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