Not a bargaining chipNorth Korea retracted a proposal for working-level talks to discuss reunions of families separated after the 1950-53 Korean War - just a day after it made the offer. Pyongyang suggested that the two Koreas meet for talks to resume the tourism program in the North’s Mount Kumgang and reunion of the families separately from the discussions on normalizing the joint industrial complex in Kaesong. But Seoul told Pyongyang that it wanted wrap up talks on Kaesong before accepting the proposal to discuss reuniting separated families. Citing the same reason, however, Pyongyang put off working-level talks.
We have to question if Pyongyang was sincere in the first place. It may have wanted to draw Seoul’s attention with the proposal as bait to recommence the profitable tourism program to Mount Kumgang that has been suspended since a South Korean tourist was shot to death by a North Korean guard in 2008. Reuniting family is strictly a humanitarian issue. It must not be used for any political or economic purposes. Pyongyang has tantalized the elderly people who wish to meet their separated families by proposing working-level talks as if it was doing them a favor and then reneging the following day.
Applicants waiting to meet their separated families once totaled 129,000. Of them, 56,000 have passed away. The surviving 73,000 are also very old, half of them being over 80. The reunions have been suspended for three years now. North Korea must not attach conditions to the humanitarian issue if it has any respect for the elderly whose last wishes are to meet their family members. There is not much time left.