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(News Focus) Inter-Korean relations to freeze after cancellation of high-level talks

2013/06/12 16:13

By Lee Joon-seung

SEOUL, June 12 (Yonhap) -- Inter-Korean relations are expected to freeze over for the time being after high-level government talks that could have helped ease uncertainties on the Korean Peninsula were canceled at the last minute, local observers said Wednesday.

North Korea analysts in Seoul said that the cancellation of the two-day meeting due to disputes over the ranks of chief delegates that Seoul and Pyongyang wanted to send to the meeting put a damper on moves to restore dialogue between the two Koreas.

The development highlighted the fragile nature of cross-border ties and the utter lack of trust between the two countries.

The two-way relations hit their lowest ebb in decades earlier in the year after the North detonated its third atomic device and threatened to attack South Korea and the United States with nuclear weapons.

A South Korean soldier stands guard near the inter-Korean Customs, Immigration and Quarantine office in Paju, about 50 kilometers northwest of Seoul on June 12, 2013. (Yonhap)

Sources said the setback became evident when the North failed to respond to a call placed by the South on the Red Cross liaison link in the morning after they restored the line five days ago. The communication line was initially severed on March 11 by the North, which slammed Seoul and Washington for conducting military exercises.

"There is a good chance that Pyongyang will again cut the line, especially since the senior government officials' meeting has been called off," a unification ministry official said.

He predicted that the North may take steps to launch propaganda campaigns against the South for the failed talks that could further strain the already tenuous ties.

The official claimed that since it was the North that unilaterally called of the talks, it should take the first step to mend fences. The remarks indicate that Seoul will not take the first step to engage the North in talks, like making a counter proposal that is more accommodating to the North.

This view was echoed by some private analysts who predicted the escalation of propaganda campaigns by the North in the near future.

"There is a good likelihood that Pyongyang will lash out at the South to dodge blame for its role in the failed talks," said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

On the other hand other experts of the communist country predicted that because the North had shown unexpected interest in holding the meeting, they may return to the negotiating table sooner than expected.

Supporters of this view said the North had accepted the truce village of Panmunjom as the venue for the talks, and had actually included Won Dong-yon as part of the entourage for the meeting. Won is the deputy head of the United Front Department of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, and considered an influential figure in the North.

Yang Moo-jin, a political science professor at the University of North Korean Studies, predicted the North may switch courses and try to resolve future inter-Korean dialogue through working-level talks.

"This approach can skirt controversy over the level of chief delegates and allow both sides to focus on pressing issues such as resumption of normal operations for the Kaesong Industrial Complex, Mount Kumgang tours and family reunions for people separated during the Korean War," the scholar said.

Experts that advocate this view said that the North may again try to push for talks ahead of the South Korea-China summit meeting scheduled for later in the month.

They said the North can take the initiative because China, its main ally, had made clear to Pyongyang's special envoy Choe Ryong-hae late last month, that the communist country must talk with the South to resolve outstanding issues. The United States also advocates talks to resolve all outstanding issues.

"In effect, the North may ask for talks to meet the wishes of its main supporter," an observer said.

Some scholars such as Choi Jong-kun a professor at Yonsei University said Seoul too should take action to bring the North back to the negotiating table.

"The South can keep the atmosphere of dialogue going by making clear the kind of kind of talks it wants, and its willingness to exchange views with Pyongyang," the professor said.

yonngong@yna.co.kr

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