Kaesong talks yield no agreements

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Kaesong talks yield no agreements

Once anxious to hold talks with South Korea, North Korea suddenly doesn’t appear - on the surface, at least - to be bent on improving inter-Korean relations.

Despite the “businesslike” atmosphere at the table, the two Koreas on Tuesday failed to reach any agreement on pending issues surrounding the Kaesong Industrial Complex north of the border. North Korea also refused to provide further information on the four South Koreans it said last week it is holding.

More than six hours of discussions on cross-border trips, customs clearance and communications for South Koreans in Kaesong yielded nothing, said the chief South Korean delegate, Lee Kang-woo of the Unification Ministry.

“We had some differences on how to approach these problems,” Lee said, referring to easing the border restrictions on South Koreans and providing Internet and mobile communication access. He said the North asked his delegation to provide necessary equipment before the South’s requests could be considered.

“We agreed to have further talks to narrow these differences,” Lee added.

Though the Kaesong issues were on the agenda, South officials also wanted to find out more about the fate of the four South Koreans being held by the North. But the North delegation didn’t oblige.

“The North representatives only said the North’s investigation would take some time before it’s finished,” Lee said. “They said they would let us know once it’s done, but didn’t elaborate on how.”

This was the second inter-Korean meeting of the year on Kaesong, and the two held a separate round of talks on Mount Kumgang tourism in early February. None of the meetings produced any breakthroughs.

The North had appeared anxious to hold these talks earlier this year.

The two Koreas met on Feb. 1 to talk about the state of the Kaesong complex, but at the time the North refused to discuss communication issues, which it said must be discussed by military officials.

Before the Feb. 1 meeting, North Korea had asked a military meeting be held on Jan. 26. South Korea countered that it be staged Feb. 23. The two sides finally settled on March 2.

The detention of the four South Koreans could potentially serve as the leverage for North Korea at future inter-Korean talks.

Last March, the North detained a South Korean worker named Yu Song-jin in Kaesong for allegedly criticizing the North’s political system. While holding him for nearly five months, the North made frequent requests for inter-Korean talks on Kaesong. Once at the table, the North pushed for a hefty wage increase for North Koreans who work there.

North Korea is unlikely to release the four, at least until mid-March. South Korea and the United States will hold their annual joint military exercise called Key Resolve/Foal Eagle from March 8 to 18. Last week, the North made what has been an annual threat of military action in response to the joint exercise, which it considers a preparation for an invasion of the North. Earlier this week, the North said denuclearization “will not progress a single step further” if Seoul and Washington go ahead with the drill.

By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]
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