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(LEAD) Koreas' talks cast doubt on family reunions

2014/02/13 15:26

SEOUL, Feb. 13 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has vowed not to hold upcoming family reunions with South Korea during the period of Seoul-Washington joint military exercises, an official said Thursday, a move that could dim the prospect of the reunions.

North Korea agreed last week to stage the reunions later this month, but it linked them to the military exercises during their first high-level talks in seven years on Wednesday that ended without any tangible agreement.

The North insisted that Seoul delay the military exercises so they won't overlap with the reunions, noting it cannot hold the reunions during the period of the military exercises, the official said.

Under last week's deal, South and North Korea are set to stage the reunions at Mount Kumgang, a scenic resort on the North's east coast, from Feb. 20 to 25.

South Korea had proposed holding the reunions from Feb. 17-22, though it later agreed to push back the dates as proposed by the North.

South Korea rejected the North's demand to reschedule the military exercises, which are set to run from Feb. 24 through mid-April.

The move raised the possibility that the North could stage the reunions from Feb. 20 to 23.

"We cannot accept any possible partial reunions," the South Korean official said.

Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said in a parliamentary session on Thursday that he expects the reunions to take place as scheduled.

North Korea has reacted sensitively to South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises for decades, condemning them as a rehearsal for invasion.

Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok ruled out the possibility of delaying the joint drills. Seoul and Washington say the exercises are defensive in nature.

Sue Mi Terry, a former senior CIA analyst on North Korea, said the reason behind the North's demand is to secure a pretext for another round of provocations, particularly in the eyes of China and the international community.

"If Washington and Seoul do not postpone the war games until after the family reunions ... then the North's propaganda machine will go to work to make the U.S. and South Korea look like the unreasonable ones," said Terry, who is now a senior research scholar at Columbia University. "What will then follow is another provocation ..., which has been part of the plan all along."

   Last year, relations between the two Koreas plunged sharply after the North carried out a third nuclear test and threatened to launch nuclear attacks against South Korea and the United States.

During Wednesday's talks, South Korea also pressed North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs, the official said.

The North reiterated that it is committed to the denuclearization of the peninsula, calling it a dying wish of the country's founder Kim Il-sung, the late grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.

Still, the North said its nuclear programs are "not an issue that should be discussed between the two Koreas," the official said.

South Korea is involved in the long-stalled six-nation talks designed to end North Korea's nuclear ambition in return for economic aid and diplomatic concessions.

The talks, last held in 2008, also includes the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

North Korea has long sought direct talks with the U.S. to address its nuclear programs, which it claims are a deterrent against Washington's alleged hostile policy against it.