Military talks between the two Koreas have collapsed, a unification ministry official in Seoul said on Wednesday, causing a setback to efforts to restart international aid-for-disarmament talks.
Inter-Korean military talks collapsed after the North's delegates walked out
Military talks aimed at easing tensions between the two Koreas collapsed on Wednesday when the North's representatives "unilaterally walked out" of the meeting in the border village of Panmunjom, Seoul's defense ministry said.
The ministry said the talks ended without an agreement to progress to a high-level meeting, with the South demanding an apology at that meeting for two bloody border incidents last year.
North Korean delegates crossed the border at Panmunjom village
The talks "failed to narrow differences over the agenda for a high-level meeting," said Kim Min Seok, spokesman for the South's Defense Ministry. They became bogged down over the procedural issue of what rank any senior talks would take, with the South demanding either a ministerial or four-star general confab while the North insisted on vice-ministerial dialogue.
No reunion for separated families
Earlier on Wednesday the South had agreed in principle to hold a separate Red Cross dialogue on humanitarian issues, including the reunion of families divided by the split peninsula.
But Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong Joo later said these talks depended on "the inter-Korean situation” and could not go ahead now.
Tensions had eased on the divided peninsula since the beginning of the year, with both sides calling for dialogue, raising hopes the neighbors could rebuild relations. Both sides are under international pressure to continue dialogue.
Seoul said the offer for senior-level military talks still stood, but on the condition that the North "takes responsible steps regarding" last year's attacks, a ministry official said.
The Red Cross dialogue to reunite separated families in North and South is no longer on the cards
What analysts say
While the failed talks underline deep divisions and distrust between the rivals, analysts said they were hardly surprised and that any talks would follow a stop-start pattern.
"I thought it would take some time due to a gap in views of the both," Park Syung-je, an expert at the Asia Strategy Institute told Reuters. "Next time ahead of talks, South Korea should check if North Korea truly wants them."
After predictions late last year of nuclear war on the peninsula, the North abruptly changed tack in January and launched a spate of appeals for dialogue.
North and South were "in the same bed but dreaming different dreams” Hong Hyun-Ik of Seoul's Sejong Institute think-tank told AFP. "The South believes the North's dire economic situation will force it to accept responsibility for the incidents, but the North cannot swallow its pride for the sake of opening talks with the South."
He said the North will now say to the US and China that it did "all it could have done to resume dialogue with the South."
Some analysts say the events fit a pattern in which the North manufactures a crisis and then suggests negotiations in hopes of aid concessions.
Inter-Korean dialogue a prerequisite for six-party talks
The US and China have set inter-Korean dialogue as a prerequisite to restart six-party talks
The US and China have set an inter-Korean dialogue as a prerequisite to restart six-party talks which offer the North aid and diplomatic recognition in return for disabling its nuclear arms program.
The North quit the six-part talks in 2009, declaring the process dead, in protest against U.N. sanctions for conducting nuclear and missile tests. North Korea has said it wants to return to the broader negotiations, but Seoul and Washington have questioned its sincerity about denuclearizing, pointing to its revelations about a uranium enrichment program.
"Without having the bilateral talks between the two Koreas, holding six-party talks also looks unclear now," Kim Seung-hwan of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Reuters.
Talking to AFP, Dongguk University Professor Kim Yong-Hyun predicted a fresh offer of talks soon. "After a cooling-off period, I believe the North will make a fresh proposal for a new round of military talks," he said.
Author: Sherpem Sherpa (Reuters, AFP, AP)
Editor: Sarah Berning