Ri­val Koreas hold high-level talks to defuse war fears


South Korea and North Korea were hold­ing their first high­level talks in nearly a year at a bor­der vil­lage on Satur­day to defuse mount­ing ten­sions that have pushed the ri­vals to the brink of a pos­si­ble mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion.

The closed- door meet­ing at Pan­munjom, where the ar­mistice end­ing fight­ing in the Korean War was agreed to in 1953, be­gan Satur­day evening, shortly af­ter a dead­line set by North Korea for the South to dis­man­tle loud­speak­ers broad­cast­ing anti-North Korean pro­pa­ganda at their bor­der, said an of­fi­cial from South Korea’s Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­istry. North Korea had de­clared that its front-line troops were in full war readi­ness and pre­pared to go to bat­tle if Seoul did not back down.

At the meet­ing, South Korea’s pres­i­den­tial na­tional se­cu­rity di­rec­tor, Kim Kwan-jin, and Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­is­ter Hong Yong-pyo sat down with Hwang Py­ong So, the top po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cer for the Korean Peo­ple’s Army, and Kim Yang Gon, a se­nior North Korean of­fi­cial re­spon­si­ble for South Korean af­fairs.

Hwang is con­sid­ered by out­side an­a­lysts to be North Korea’s sec­ond most im­por­tant of­fi­cial af­ter supreme leader Kim Jong Un.

The meet­ing came as a se­ries of in­ci­dents raised fears that the con­flict could spi­ral out of con­trol, start­ing with a land mine at­tack, al­legedly by the North, that maimed two South Korean sol­diers and the South’s re­sump­tion of anti-Py­ongyang pro­pa­ganda broad­casts.

An of­fi­cial from South Korea’s De­fense Min­istry, who didn’t want to be named be­cause of of­fice rules, said that the South would con­tinue with the an­tiPy­ongyang broad­casts dur­ing the meet­ing and would make a de­ci­sion on whether to halt them depend­ing on the re­sult of the talks.

While the meet­ing of­fered a way for the ri­vals to avoid a col­li­sion for now, an­a­lysts in Seoul won­dered whether the coun­tries were stand­ing too far apart to ex­pect a quick agree­ment that could defuse the con­flict.

‘Vi­cious cy­cle’

“South Korea has openly vowed to cut off the vi­cious cy­cle of North Korean provo­ca­tions, so it can’t man­age to walk off with a weak set­tle­ment,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea ex­pert at Dong­guk Univer­sity in Seoul. “The South will also likely de­mand the North to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the land mine at­tack and apol­o­gize, and there isn’t much rea­son to think that Py­ongyang would ac­cept that.” Koh, how­ever, said that Satur­day’s meet­ing might open the door to more meet­ings be­tween the ri­vals to dis­cuss a va­ri­ety of is­sues.

South Korea had been us­ing 11 loud­speaker sys­tems along the bor­der for the broad­casts, which in­cluded the latest news around the Korean Penin­sula and the world, South Korean pop­u­lar mu­sic and pro­grams prais­ing the South’s democ­racy and eco­nomic af­flu­ence over the North’s op­pres­sive gov­ern­ment, a se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said at a news con­fer­ence, on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Each loud­speaker sys­tem has broad­cast for more than 10 hours a day in three or four dif­fer­ent time slots that were fre­quently changed for un­pre­dictabil­ity, the of­fi­cial said. If North Korea at­tacks the loud­speak­ers, the South is ready to strike back at the North Korean units re­spon­si­ble for such at­tacks, he said.

Au­thor­i­tar­ian North Korea, which has also restarted its own pro­pa­ganda broad­casts, is ex­tremely sen­si­tive to any crit­i­cism of its gov­ern­ment. An­a­lysts in Seoul also be­lieve the North fears that the South’s broad­casts could de­mor­al­ize its front-line troops and in­spire them to de­fect.

The high-level meet­ing was first pro­posed by Py­ongyang on Fri­day af­ter­noon. The ri­val coun­tries reached an agree­ment for the meet­ing Satur­day morn­ing af­ter the North ac­cepted the South’s de­mand that Hwang be present at the meet­ing, South Korea’s pres­i­den­tial of­fice said.

Hwang and Kim Yang Gon vis­ited South Korea in Oc­to­ber last year dur­ing the Asian Games in In­cheon, but their meet­ing with Kim, the South’s na­tional se­cu­rity di­rec­tor, and then- Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­istry Ryoo Kihl-jae failed to im­prove ties be­tween the coun­tries.


In this photo pro­vided by the South Korean Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­istry, South Korean Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­is­ter Hong Yong-pyo, left, and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Di­rec­tor, Kim Kwan-jin, sec­ond from left, meet with Kim Yang Gon, right, a se­nior North Korean of­fi­cial re­spon­si­ble for South Korean af­fairs, and Hwang Py­ong So, North Korea’ top po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cer for the Korean Peo­ple’s Army, at the bor­der vil­lage of Pan­munjom in Paju, South Korea, Satur­day, Aug. 22.

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