North proposes new gov’t talks

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North proposes new gov’t talks

South and North Korea agreed on Friday to hold working-level talks on Nov. 26 at the truce village of Panmunjom as part of efforts to follow through on a joint agreement reached during the summer.

“Through the Panmunjom channel this morning, North Korea proposed to the South that the two sides hold working-level talks at the border village, which we accepted,” said the Ministry of Unification in Seoul, which handles inter-Korean matters, in a statement on Friday.

The talks will involve six negotiators - three from each side - and focus on deciding when and where to hold higher-level inter-Korean talks, as well as who will take part, according to an official at the ministry.

The agreement on working-level talks comes nearly two months after Seoul made its first offer for talks to the North, which did not respond.

Over the past two months, the South made three proposals for talks, none of which drew a response from Pyongyang.

North Korea expert Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst with the Seoul-based think tank Sejong Institute, said Pyongyang took time responding to offers for talks “because of the unrest in the top circle of the party after Choe Ryong-hae, secretary of the Workers’ Party, was apparently removed from power” for unknown reasons.

Fresh working-level talks raise the expectation that the two sides could continue the momentum created by the Aug. 25 joint agreement reached after marathon talks at Panmunjom.

Under the six-point agreement, Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to resume reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War and organize senior-level talks to facilitate exchanges between the two sides and improve relations.

The talks eased elevated tensions on the peninsula that brought the two sides to the brink of armed conflict along the heavily fortified border.

On a possible agenda for high-level talks, the ministry official said the issue of holding additional family reunions could be the top issue given the “urgency of the matter,” as most separated relatives are in their 80s or older.

The news about working-level talks comes amid rising speculation that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will visit Pyongyang in the coming days, a rare journey which the UN acknowledged was being discussed with North Korea.

Two other UN secretary generals, Kurt Waldheim and Boutros Boutros-Ghali, visited North Korea, and both met with North Korean founder Kim Il Sung.

If realized, Ban’s visit would be the first by a UN chief to North Korea in 22 years.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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