North, South Korea agree high-level talks aimed at easing tensions | News | DW | 10.06.2013
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North, South Korea agree high-level talks aimed at easing tensions

North and South Korea have agreed to hold senior-level talks this week in Seoul. The deal comes as a breakthrough of sorts after months of tensions and nuclear threats.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) inspects Korean People's Army Unit 405 at an undisclosed location (photo via Reuters)

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Officials from both sides formally set the date for two-day high-level talks in the South Korean capital during marathon negotiations, the South's Unification Ministry reported Monday.

Delegates spent 17 hours ironing out the details of the talks, which are due to begin on Wednesday.

Officials met in the border truce village of Penmunjom, where the armistice ending the three-year Korean War was signed, 60 years ago next month. It was the first meeting of its kind in more than two years.

It was agreed that the higher-level talks would focus on deescalating tensions between the two nations after months of exchanged threats. Some discrepancies remain, however, on who precisely will attend, who will lead negotiations and what topics should be discussed.

"Both sides issued separate statements on the outcome of discussions after failing to narrow differences over the level of chief delegate and agenda," the South's Unification Ministry said.

It is likely, however, that stalled cooperation projects will dominate the talks, namely the future of the jointly run Kaesong industrial complex. Pyongyang pulled its workers out of the factory park, which lies along the border, earlier this year at the height of tensions. It had been the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation.

Nuclear off the agenda

Discussions on the resumption of South Korean civilian tours to the North's Mount Kumgang mountain resort and reunions between families divided since the Korean War, are also expected.

In a likely source of disappointment to the west, North Korea's controversial nuclear program was not listed as a possible discussion point.

Troubles between the neighboring countries escalated earlier this year when the international community levied further sanctions on North Korea following its latest nuclear test. In retaliation, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un threatened to launch missile and nuclear strikes against South Korea and the United States.

The North's threats coincided with annual South Korea-US military drills, which Kim said amounted to provocation, demanding they come to an end. When South Korean President Park Geun-Hye refused to acquiesce to Kim's demands, North Korea withdrew 53,000 workers from Kaesong. It also severed the official telephone line to Seoul.

While Wednesday's talks will be the first ministerial-level summit since 2007, analysts remain skeptical about North Korea's intentions. Some have suggested the North could be following their habitual pattern of following aggressive rhetoric with diplomatic efforts in order to exchange an easing of tension for outside concessions.

ccp/ch (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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