North Korea and South Korea agreed to conduct peace talks. The countries might agree to end armed standoff that was defused, but continues to vex them.
North Korea extended an invitation to its southern neighbor to hold talks. The South agreed on Friday and the talks are expected to take place in Panmunjeom, a village interestingly referred to as "truce village." Unless some incident crops up, the talks are scheduled to take place on November 26. The peace talks, intended to ease the escalating tension between the two countries, will be first since August, when South Korea had accused the North of intentionally harming its soldiers.
Tensions peaked in August, when land mines wounded two South Korean border guards. The explosions that hurt the soldiers happened in the neutral area of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). South Korea had strongly blamed the North, but Pyongyang had denied any wrongdoing with equal intensity.
Interestingly, when North Korea extended its invitation to hold peace talks, the South interpreted it as an "apology." However, the North's National Defense Commission was quick to stress that it merely meant to extend its sympathy and nothing more. The country clarified that it wants to ease the tensions and hopefully scale down the armed standoff that ensued, but it was not accepting any responsibility for the landmine that caused harm to the two South Korean soldiers. It is still not clear why the two soldiers were in the DMZ.
Incidentally, this week's talks are merely a prelude. Thursday's talks will be a preparatory meeting for high-level discussions, shared South Korea's Unification Ministry, on a date yet to be set, reported CNN. The "working-level" meeting will involve government officials who will hash out details and agenda for high-level talks. While the first level talks have been held on numerous occasions, there have never been talks at high level, which presumably involve North Korea's Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un.
There is only one instance, in June, 2013, when the talks did approach "high-level." The talks were to be held in Seoul, but they were abruptly cancelled merely a day before they were scheduled to happen, because North Korea disputed the level of the chief South Korean negotiator, reported Fox Report Daily.
The South has sought to have talks with the North on numerous occasions, but North Korea has always found some reason to suspend talks. Incidentally, the upcoming talks, too, have been scheduled after days of intense speculation about a possible trip to the North by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Ban was scheduled to visit in the month of May this year, but North Korea withdrew the invitation it had earlier extended, at the very last minute, stating Ban had unjustly criticized a recently-conducted North Korean missile test.
When the landmines injured the South Korean soldiers, the country accused the North of deliberately planting bombs. In retaliation, the South turned on propaganda loudspeakers that had been dormant for years, reported New York Times.
The only good that has come from such talks is the recent massive reunion that took place between the families which had been torn apart after the 1950-1953 Korean War. The war between North and South Korea had merely ended in a tense armistice, and not a peace treaty. As a result, it had separated millions of families. The brief reunion that took place in October saw a huge deluge of people crossing the border to meet their near and dear ones.
Relations between the two Koreas have remained nearly frozen since 2010, when the North had sunk a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors. Interestingly, even at that time, Pyongyang had strongly denied its hand in the sinking. Will such "working-level talks," which the Koreas have agreed upon, thaw the relations?
[Photo by Korea Pool/Getty Images]