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Inter-Korean high-level talks take the only first step
FEBRUARY 13, 2014 05:31  
The first inter-Korean high-level talks since the launch of the Park Geun-hye administration were held at the truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday. As there was no dialogue between the two Koreas during the previous Lee Myung-bak administration, the latest talks are the first in seven years. The two sides had no predetermined agendas but are said to have exchanged their general positions on a wide range of issues including proposed family reunions, the South Korea-U.S. Key Resolve joint military exercises and the North Korean nuclear issue. It is positive that the two Koreas finally held talks after a long hiatus, it is necessary to carefully consider North Korea`s intention behind its sudden proposal of talks and take time to cool-headedly respond to it.

Reportedly, North Korea wanted to keep the talks behind closed doors. It seems that the North found something uncomfortable as Seoul insisted on making the talks public in response to Pyongyang`s offer last weekend to hold closed-doors dialogue involving a senior official from the South`s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae. Perhaps, Pyongyang had issues to address by making a deal quickly and secretly with Cheong Wa Dae. It seems that the North that much desperate. North Korea is now in complete isolation as even China, Pyongyang`s long supporter, joined the United Nations` sanctions on the North following Pyongyang`s nuclear test in February 2013. It is also in desperate need to get outside help in order to calm down its unstable internal situation revealed by the purge and execution of Jang Song Thaek, once powerful uncle-in-law of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

With Kim Kyou-hyun, South Korea`s deputy chief of the National Security Council at Cheong Wa Dae, and Won Dong Yon, vice director of the United Front Department of the North`s ruling Korean Workers` Party, as the chief negotiators representing each side, respectively, the latest talks were an opportunity for the Koreas to sound out each other. A South Korean government official said, "We checked if the North, which made peace gestures, was willing to make progress in the inter-Korean relations with not words but action, and made it clear that if North Korea is willing to do so, the two sides would be able to make a breakthrough in making progress in bilateral relations." This year, North Korea expressed its willingness to improve the inter-Korean relations through Kim Jong Un`s New Year`s speech and the powerful National Defense Commission`s "important proposal," while linking the South Korea-U.S. Key Resolve joint military exercises with the proposed family reunions.

During the Lee Myung-bak administration, the inter-Korean relations were strained as Pyongyang responded with provocations to Seoul`s attempt to stop the previous administrations` unilateral aid to the North. It is natural that Seoul stopped aid to and economic cooperation with the North, which killed a South Korean tourist at Mt. Kumgang resort in North Korea, conducted nuclear tests, launched missiles, sank a South Korean naval vessel and shelled a South Korean frontline Yeonpyeong Island. While it is important to accelerate the Korean Peninsula peace process proposed by President Park Geun-hye, it would be difficult to win public support without North Korea`s apologies and promise to prevent the recurrence of such provocations. Above all, improved inter-Korean relations and peace on the peninsula are pipe dreams as long as Pyongyang clings to its nuclear program.

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