North requests high-ranking talks

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North requests high-ranking talks

South and North Korea will hold an unexpected meeting of high-ranking government officials today to discuss current inter-Korean affairs amid Pyongyang’s protests over coming Seoul-Washington military drills and the reunions of war-separated families scheduled for next week.

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said in a statement yesterday that high-ranking officials from both Koreas will meet at the Peace House in the South Korean part of the Panmunjom border village at 10 a.m. today to discuss “overall inter-Korean matters.”

The chief negotiator from South Korea is Kim Kyou-hyun, the first deputy director of the Presidential Office of National Security. He will be accompanied by officials from the Ministry of Unification, the Ministry of National Defense and the Blue House.

Kim’s counterpart is Won Tong-yon, vice director of the United Front Department of North Korea, which is in charge of inter-Korean cooperation, according to the Unification Ministry.

“There is no specific agenda planned in advance for these talks, but we expect them to discuss some major issues, including the smooth implementation of the upcoming family reunions and making the reunions regular events,” the Unification Ministry said in its statement.

An official of the ministry told reporters that the meeting was proposed by North Korea on Saturday through a fax to the South. After that, the two Koreas had behind-the-scenes contact to schedule the talks.

They reached a final agreement on the details, such as the venue, date and names of negotiators, yesterday.

The official said North Korea asked for a Blue House official as chief negotiator, not someone from the Ministry of Unification, which is usually in charge of inter-Korean talks.

“The [high] level of the talks was proposed by North Korea,” the official said.

Asked whether North Korea mentioned whether it wanted to discuss the coming South Korea-U.S. joint military drills, which Pyongyang customarily condemns, the official said there was no word from North Korea on the issue.

But North Korea yesterday continued its complaints about the drills in an editorial in its major government mouthpiece, the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, which read: “How could we share the love of brotherhood under the U.S. nuclear bomb?”

The two Koreas have agreed to hold the reunions of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War between Feb. 20 and 25 at the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea.

South Korea will carry out two annual joint military drills with its ally the United States from Feb. 24 to April. 18.

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

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