Round 3 of Kaesong talks today

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Round 3 of Kaesong talks today

The two Koreas are expected to struggle through another round of talks to reopen the jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex today, and both agree that the fate of the factory park is the key to better or worse relations.

Like the second contentious round last Wednesday, the meeting will be held in the Kaesong complex, with each Korea sending three negotiators, including the chief representatives. The South’s team will cross the heavily armed border at around 8:30 a.m. to have morning discussions, take a break for lunch, and resume talks in the afternoon.

North Korea warned Saturday that the outcome of the talks will “have an impact on the overall North-South relations” in a telegram issued in the name of the Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea.

“The matter of the Kaesong Industrial Complex will be literally the litmus test of current North-South relations,” the telegram said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. “There can be no progress in North-South relations unless the problems of the Kaesong Industrial Complex are resolved.”

Pyongyang also said the fate of separate talks on reunions of families separated by the Korean War and the reopening of the Mount Kumgang Resort depends on success in Kaesong.

The telegram said it was “hard to understand” why South Korea accepted the North’s proposal to hold talks on the reunions but deferred talks on Mount Kumgang, which Pyongyang proposed last Wednesday.

At the time, Seoul said it wanted to focus on the Kaesong issues.

Seoul also stressed the importance of reopening the eight-year-old joint venture in Kaesong, which has been shuttered for more than three months due to deteriorating relations with Pyongyang.

“The matter of the Kaesong Industrial Complex includes all elements and problems of inter-Korean cooperation and interactions,” Kim Hyung-suk, a spokesman for the Unification Ministry, said on Friday at a daily briefing. “Our top priority is to make efforts for resolving the Kaesong issues. That’s the reason why we focus on the government-level talks.”

A total of 115 Southern businessmen and 40 government officials visited the Kaesong complex Saturday and returned with 375 metric tons of raw materials and finished products from the park. They returned to the South the same day.

An additional 159 textile and apparel makers will visit today.

The South’s new chief negotiator for the third round is Kim Ki-woong, the newly appointed head of the Unification Ministry’s Exchanges and Cooperation Bureau. Kim replaced former chief Suh Ho on Friday.

The replacement of a chief negotiator while negotiations are ongoing came as a surprise and prompted questions. The Unification Ministry told reporters Friday that it was a routine replacement.

Reportedly, Suh failed to get North Korea to promise not to hold the complex and its businesses hostage in the future when ties between North and South deteriorated.

Kim, his replacement, is considered tougher than Suh and is expected to make that demand more forcefully.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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