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(4th LD) Two Koreas agree to hold government talks in Seoul this week

2013/06/10 16:57

SEOUL, June 10 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea agreed Monday to hold two-day, high-level talks in Seoul later this week, but they failed to hammer out exactly what should be discussed and who should head the delegations from both countries, a Seoul official said.

"The South and North Korean delegations agreed to each send five representatives to the talks to be held in Seoul on Wednesday and Thursday," Chun Hae-sung, the head of the Ministry of Unification's policy setting office, said in a press briefing that followed the marathon 17-hour working-level talks between the two Koreas. The North agreed to send its negotiators across the land border, he said.

The meeting will take place at the Grand Hilton Seoul in the northeastern part of the capital city. The hotel is close to downtown Seoul with its government offices and has excellent convention facilities. It was the venue for the last ministerial talks held in May-June 2007.

Chun led the three-men South Korean delegation to the talks, which started Sunday morning and lasted till early Monday on the South Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjom in the inter-Korean border.

Leading the talks for the North was Kim Song-hye, a female official at the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK). She has attended several previous inter-Korean talks.

Both countries, however, failed to reach an agreement on the topics to be discussed at the Wednesday-Thursday meeting and who should be the top negotiators from the two sides, the South Korean official said.

"Our side tried to reach an agreement on arranging a meeting between (South Korean) Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae and (North Korean) United Front Department chief Kim Yang-gon, whose authorities and responsibilities are high enough to be able to resolve outstanding inter-Korean issues, but failed to make an agreement," Chun said. The North will soon determine who will head the North Korean delegations and notify the South at the earliest possible moment, he said.

The countries both wanted to discuss ways to resume the operations of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the joint Mt. Kumgang resort as well as the reunion events of families separated by the Korean War (1950-53), but the South could not accept the North's demand for additional agenda items of holding joint ceremonies for the 13th anniversary of the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration and the 1972 July 4th North-South Joint statements, according to the official.

The South has repeatedly rejected the North's previous calls for allowing the joint celebration events, which involve South Korean liberal-side civic groups.

During the working-level talks, the two countries also agreed to name the upcoming negotiation as inter-Korean "government talks," which will replace the previous "ministerial-level talks."

   "The North proposed (the form) of government talks, and Seoul agreed with it because we thought it is reasonable for the goal of setting a new inter-Korean relation under a new era," Chun said.

"As we have plenty of things to discuss at the (upcoming) talks, it may be difficult to resolve all of them at once. But we will try to deal with the issues step by step," the official noted. He said the goal will be to tackle easy issues first and then proceed to those that are more challenging.

During the approaching two-day meeting, both sides will likely dwell first on the resumption of the suspended jointly run factory zone in the North Korean border town of Kaesong. In protest against joint Seoul-Washington military exercises in March, Pyongyang in early April withdrew North Korean workers employed by South Korean firms there, which led to the shutdown of what was seen as the last symbol of joint inter-Korean economic cooperation.

Since the suspension, Seoul has long demanded the North promise not to make another shutdown of the industrial complex as a condition for permitting the reopening of the factory zone.

The working-level meeting came after the North's CPRK called for working-level talks Friday following its earlier proposal to hold government-level talks to resolve various inter-Korean issues.

Seoul accepted the government-to-government talks and countered by asking for a ministerial-level meeting so all key issues could be discussed by responsible officials.

Related to the talks, the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae said it carefully monitored the developments at Panmunjom.

The Cheong Wa Dae added that President Park is expected to chair a meeting of security and foreign affairs ministers later in the day to reflect ongoing efforts by Seoul and Pyongyang to resolve outstanding issues through dialogue and review the recent summit meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The two leaders confirmed that they will not accept North Korea as a nuclear power, despite insistence by Pyongyang that it will never give up is nuclear capability.

The communist country detonated its third nuclear device on Feb. 12 and claimed it has successfully miniaturized its nuclear arsenal.

Political observers in Seoul, meanwhile, said that if ministerial talks do take place and progress is made, North Korean representatives may be able to meet the South Korean president.

"There is precedence for such a meeting taking place, that could allow North Korea to convey the wishes of their leader Kim Jong-un to the South Korean chief executive," an expert said. This, he claimed, would be a sort of "indirect summit" that could lay the foundation for trust building down the road.

yonngong@yna.co.kr

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