North-South Korea to Hold First High-Level Talks Since 2007

The two Koreas will hold their first high-level talks in more than six years inside the heavily fortified demilitarized zone tomorrow, a South Korean official said.

The talks at the village of Panmunjom will involve a South Korean presidential security adviser and a senior North Korean Workers’ Party official, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eui Do said today at a briefing.

The meeting precedes the planned Feb. 20-25 reunions of families separated by the Korean War, which would be the first in more than three years. The countries, which remain technically at war after the 1950-53 conflict ended without a peace treaty, agreed on Jan. 24 to revive the reunions after the North canceled them in September.

“Comprehensive discussions are expected, including main areas of interest such as smoothly conducting and regularizing the family reunions,” Kim said. The two countries have held fewer than 20 rounds of the reunions since 2000.

An attempt to hold high-level talks collapsed in June last year in disagreement over the seniority of negotiators each side planned to send. The last high-level meeting occurred in late 2007, involving defense ministers.

Mending Ties

“The standoff over the last six years will be discussed in an open atmosphere tomorrow, and both sides will propose ways to end it,” Chang Yong Seok, a senior researcher at Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, said by phone. “This clearly shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is serious about mending ties because his country is cornered at a time he needs to rebuild its economy.”

Kim, who ordered the execution of his uncle in December on charges of treason, expressed willingness in his New Year speech to improve ties with South Korea. South Korean President Park Geun Hye said Jan. 6 she would meet with Kim if it could lead to concrete results, billing a possible unification of the countries as a potential economic bonanza. The leaders of the two countries met in 2000 and 2007.

South Korea’s delegation tomorrow will include Unification and Defense Ministry officials, Kim Eui Do said.

Relations between the two Koreas remain testy on a variety of fronts. North Korea has demanded the U.S. and South Korea cancel their annual military drills set to begin Feb. 24, calling them preparations to invade the country. The allies call them defensive in nature.

The North earlier withdrew its invitation for a U.S. human rights envoy to travel to Pyongyang to discuss the release of a detained American, Kenneth Bae. The State Department expressed disappointment and said its drills with the South have nothing to do with the detained citizen.

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