Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014

Koreas hold senior-level meeting at border village

South Korean delegates leave for the border village of the Panumjom to meets their North Korean counterpart, at the Office of the South Korea-North Korea Dialogue in Seoul, South Korea. (AP photo) South Korean delegates leave for the border village of the Panumjom to meets their North Korean counterpart, at the Office of the South Korea-North Korea Dialogue in Seoul, South Korea. (AP photo)
Associated Press | Seoul | Posted: February 12, 2014 12:40 pm

Senior officials from the rival Koreas met Wednesday at a border village, their highest-level talks in years and a potential signal that Pyongyang wants better ties and the resumption of lucrative cooperative projects.

Seoul officials said the meeting was requested by North Korea, which has launched a recent charm offensive after raising tensions last spring with repeated threats to fire nuclear-tipped missiles against Seoul and Washington. Later this month, the two Koreas are to hold reunions of families separated since the 1950-53 Korean War. It would be the first such reunions in more than three years.

Wednesday’s meeting began with no fixed agenda, but South Korea wants to discuss ways to make the reunions run smoothly and whether to pursue them regularly, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which is responsible for ties with North Korea. The details of Wednesday’s closed-door meetings weren’t immediately available.

North Korea canceled planned reunions at the last minute in September, and has recently threatened to scrap this month’s reunions because of upcoming U.S.-South Korean military drills, which it says are preparations for an invasion. But outside analysts say it’s unlikely that North Korea will halt the reunions this time because it needs improved ties with South Korea to help attract foreign investment and aid.

South Korea has so far dismissed North Korea’s recent proposals for a series of measures that Pyongyang says are needed to ease tensions, saying the North must first take nuclear disarmament steps and show how sincere it is about its stated desire to improve ties.

Wariness in Seoul is still high because of a weeks-long barrage of threats and provocations last spring from Pyongyang after international condemnation of its third nuclear test. Pyongyang, which has repeatedly vowed to expand its nuclear arsenal, is trying to build nuclear-armed missiles that can reach the continental U.S., but most experts say the country has yet to master the technology needed to mount an atomic bomb on a missile.

Last month, the top U.S. intelligence official said that North Korea has expanded the size of its uranium enrichment facility at its main nuclear complex and restarted a reactor that was used for plutonium production before it was shut down in 2007.

The chief South Korean delegate at the meeting, Kim Kyou-hyun, is a vice-ministerial-level national security official with the presidential Blue House. The North Korean delegation is headed by senior ruling Workers’ Party official Won Tong Yon, a veteran official specializing in ties with Seoul. North Korea demanded South Korea send a senior Blue House official to continued…

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