Marathon negotiations saw accord and discord

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Marathon negotiations saw accord and discord

South and North Korea agreed to high-level, government-to-government talks this week after 17 hours of marathon negotiations, and will discuss reviving inter-Korean business projects and humanitarian projects.

But they sparred over the agenda of the meeting and Pyongyang refused to make it a ministerial summit, preferring it to be attended by lower-level officials.

After 10 meetings with breaks between 10 a.m. Sunday and 3 a.m. Monday, the two delegations at the border village of Panmunjom agreed to have senior-level meetings on Wednesday and Thursday in Seoul.

Each delegation from Seoul and Pyongyang will be composed of five representatives, according to Seoul’s Ministry of Unification, and the Northern delegation will travel over land via the Gyeongui highway.

Some further points about the meeting will be negotiated through the hotlines at Panmunjom.

Seoul wanted a cabinet minister-level meeting aiming for fundamental resolutions of inter-Korean matters. But Pyongyang refused that high a level, saying it merely wanted “government-level” talks.

“We failed in narrowing the gap over the level of chief representatives and the agenda,” said Chun Hae-sung, head of the unification policy bureau of the ministry, at a press conference yesterday. “We explained we should have a dialogue between our unification minister and the North’s Minister of United Front Department in order to effectively resolve current affairs between the two Koreas. But we couldn’t reach a consensus [with the North].”

The South requested Kim Yang-gon, head of the United Front Department, an organization of the ruling Workers’ Party of North Korea in charge of unification affairs, be chief representative of the Northern delegation. He is the counterpart of the South’s Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae.

The two Koreas released different statements after the meetings.

Seoul’s said, “The South’s chief representative will be an official who can be responsible for inter-Korean matters and negotiate and resolve them.” Pyongyang’s statement read: “The Northern chief will be a high-level official.”

Kim Yang-gon is considered a point man on inter-Korean affairs in Pyongyang. In 2007, he had a secret meeting with then-National Intelligence Service chief Kim Man-bok to arrange the second inter-Korean summit, which was held in October 2007. In 2009, he met with Yim Tae-hee, then-special envoy to President Lee Myung-bak, in Singapore, to negotiate a third inter-Korean summit that never came off. Kim officially ordered the withdrawal of all 53,000 North Korean workers from the Kaesong Industrial Complex in April, shutting down the eight-year-old factory park.

The two sides also disagreed on the agenda for the talks. Seoul wanted an agenda that took on “some urgent problems,” such as “the Kaesong Industrial Complex, Mount Kumgang tours, and reunions of separated families.”

South Korean tourists were not allowed to visit Mount Kumgang after a North Korean soldier shot dead a Southern tourist in July 2008. The reunions of families separated since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War have been suspended since November 2010 in the wake of the North’s deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

Pyongyang wanted the agenda to include civilian-level events and other cross-border business projects.

Particularly, the North’s delegation urged Seoul to hold a joint event to mark the anniversary of the June 15, 2000 North-South Joint Declaration, which was made by former president Kim Dae-jung and late leader Kim Jong-il, this Saturday.

It also proposed an event to celebrate a July 4, 1972 Joint Statement by former leaders Kim Il Sung and Park Chung Hee about reunification. But the Southern delegation didn’t agree to those.

Chun said the upcoming talks will be different from the 21 previous ministerial inter-Korean talks.

“This inter-Korean meeting has a new format,” Chun said, without elaborating. “When North Korea proposed to call it ‘government-level’ talks, they didn’t specify reasons. We also agreed on this new title for the meeting, as it could fit our concept of ‘new dialogue for a new era.’?”

In fact, two days is shorter than previous ministerial meetings. So far, all ministerial talks since the first in July 2000 lasted at least three days whether they were held in Pyongyang or Seoul, and they included dinners and one-day guided-tours of the host cities.

For the two-day talks, the schedule is expected to be tight.

A Unification Ministry official told reporters yesterday the North’s delegation would be composed of 30 to 50 people including the five representatives.

According to the official, a Northern delegation usually crosses to the Dorasan Mountain South-North Immigration Office in the Southern territory using their own cars via the Gyeongui highway. After immigration, they board cars or buses provided by the South Korean government to travel into Seoul.

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