N.Korea Severs Hotline Again

      June 13, 2013 09:28

      North Korea on Wednesday cut off an inter-Korean hotline at the truce village of Panmunjom again, only days after reconnecting it last week. A day earlier the North abruptly canceled cross-border talks scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday amid wrangling about the rank of the chief delegates from the two sides.

      A Unification Ministry official on Wednesday said a liaison officer made a test call through the Panmunjom hotline around 9 a.m., but there was no answer from the North. The same thing happened at 4 p.m.

      There was no official announcement from the North. The North severed the Panmunjom hotline on March 27 in protest against joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises.

      But on June 6, the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea suddenly pledged to reopen the hotline and proposed talks about the resumption of cross-border projects including the Kaesong Industrial Complex and reunions of families separated by the Korean War. It reconnected the hotline on June 7 after Seoul accepted the offer of dialogue.

      Mid-ranking officials from the two sides met over the weekend to prepare the higher-level talks but were unable to agree on the agenda, and the North could not be persuaded to send an official who roughly matched the South Korean unification minister in rank. After some wrangling, Seoul said its delegation would be headed by a vice minister, but that was not good enough for the impoverished North and it canceled the talks.

      Pyongyang had in the past managed to get away with a series of calculated insults by sending a mid-ranking apparatchik to meet the unification minister in talks billed as "ministerial," but Seoul is apparently determined to put relations on a less childish footing.

      A senior presidential official commented, "President Park Geun-hye likes to say, 'Form controls content.' She's got a point."

      Cheong Wa Dae in other words seems to take the view that cross-border negotiations must be based on a modicum of courtesy and respectful protocol if they are to produce any result.

      "I think we're at a turning point on the way to a new inter-Korean relationship," Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-Jae said. "North Korea will have to show some sincerity if it too wants relations to improve."

      The ministry said it will not offer fresh talks in another forum to the North unless it proves that it has changed.

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