Panmunjon meeting is under way

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The BBC World Service reports that a meeting at Freedom House on the South Korean side of the joint security area, is under way today in Panmunjom, where the truce ending the 1950-53 Korean War was signed – the first meeting of its kind on the Korean Peninsula in more than two years.

SK delegate meets K. Song-hyeSouth Korean delegate Chun Hae-sung (right) meets Kim Song-hye, North Korea’s representative 

A few days ago CHOE SANG-HUN, writing for the New York Times from SEOUL, South Korea, reported that North and South Korea had agreed to hold this dialogue, easing the tensions after the North’s nuclear program this year escalated into one of the divided peninsula’s worst crises.

North Korea made a surprise overture on Thursday, proposing official negotiations with the South on reopening two shuttered joint economic projects, including the recently closed Kaesong industrial park, as well as humanitarian programs. South Korea quickly accepted the offer, proposing a cabinet minister-level meeting in the South Korean capital, Seoul, next Wednesday.

North Korea on Friday welcomed the response from the South and proposed to begin with working-level talks in Kaesong on Sunday to prepare for the proposed cabinet-level meeting. It also announced that it was restoring the cross-border communications lines it had cut off earlier this year, following joint United States-South Korean military drills.

Diplomatic and economic factors

Ms Sang-Hun notes that this overture came a day before President Obama’s meeting in California with President Xi Jinping of China, North Korea’s main ally, when the North’s recent threats of nuclear attacks if provoked was expected to be a main topic of discussion.

Another motive for trying to reopen the joint ventures with South Korea is the need to generate badly needed revenue. Kaesong’s factories, which paired 53,000 North Korean workers with South Korean capital and management, generated $90 million in hard currency each year.

North Korea also proposed resuming cross-border tours from South Korea to a North Korean mountain resort that were suspended after North Korean soldiers fatally shot a tourist from the South in 2008, and reviving programs for arranging the temporary reunions of Korean families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, said, “Our position has been consistent for promoting the reconciliation and solidarity of the nation and achieving reunification and peaceful prosperity.” The South’s Unification Ministry also issued a statement: “We hope the government-to-government talks will become an opportunity to build trust between the South and North”.

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