As marathon negotiations by senior officials from the Koreas stretched into a third day on Monday, South Korea’s president insisted that anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts will continue unless North Korea apologizes for planting land mines that Seoul says maimed two South Korean soldiers.
The comments by Park Geun-hye suggest both frustration in Seoul and provide a hint at why the talks, which started Saturday evening and whose second session began Sunday afternoon and was still going late Monday morning, drag on.
For the time being, the diplomacy pushed aside previous heated warnings of imminent war, but South Korea’s military said North Korea continued to prepare for a fight, moving unusual numbers of troops and submarines to the border.
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North Korea is refusing to apologize for what Seoul says was a land mine attack and then an artillery barrage last week. North Korea denies both attacks and demands that Seoul stop the propaganda broadcasts started in retaliation for the land mine explosions.
These are the highest-level talks between the two Koreas in a year. And just the fact that senior officials from countries that have spent recent days vowing to destroy each other are sitting together at a table in Panmunjom, the border enclave where the 1953 armistice ending fighting in the Korean War was agreed to, is something of a victory.
The length of the talks, nearly 10 hours for the first session and more than 18 for the second, and the lack of immediate progress are not unusual. While the Koreas often have difficulty agreeing to talks, once they do, overlong sessions are often the rule. After decades of animosity and bloodshed, however, finding common ground is much harder.