Road to high-level talks between Koreas reopens


Koreas back on track towards cooperation as South accepts North’s offer to pursue discussions about arranging a summit

By Alex Jensen

SEOUL – North Korea ended its silence on resuming dialogue with the South on Friday, and Seoul promptly accepted Pyongyang’s offer of talks.

The two sides, technically in a state of war, will conduct working-level discussions at the inter-Korean border next week.

They plan to “discuss details over high-level talks”, according to a South Korean government official quoted by local news agency Yonhap.

Pyongyang’s move came after months of uncertainty following a landmark Aug. 25 cooperation deal with Seoul.

That agreement followed a spike in military tensions on the peninsula, and included the promise to continue dialogue.

Another aspect of the deal was fulfilled last month, when North Korea hosted a reunion of relatives caught either side of a border that has remained nearly impenetrable since the 1950-53 Korean War.

Friday’s diplomatic breakthrough followed days of intense speculation about a possible trip to the North by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

While Ban heads an international organization, he is also a former South Korean foreign minister and a potential presidential contender at home.

It remains unclear whether he will play any part in ongoing cooperation efforts.

Current president Park Geun-hye has made it clear she is open to a summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, but the leaders are far apart on key issues like Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons.

The last time the Koreas arranged high-level talks, in 2013, the plan fell through at the last minute due to a relatively mundane dispute concerning the South’s chosen negotiator’s level of seniority.

North Korea did send a surprise delegation to the closing of the Asian Games in the South Korean city of Incheon last year, but Seoul and Pyongyang failed to follow up with concrete bilateral steps.

Any future talks are likely to focus on a way forward that allows the South to lift economic sanctions.

Seoul imposed the punishment on its northern neighbor following the sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010.