SEOUL — North and South Korea sat down to rare, high-level talks today, with each side looking to squeeze concessions from the other on stalled cross-border programmes in which both their leaders have a political stake.
The vice minister-level dialogue, held in the Kaesong joint industrial zone on the North Korean side of the border, was the fruit of crisis talks in August to ease sky-high military tensions on the divided peninsula.
The last such sit-down, with the mandate to discuss a range of inter-Korean issues, took place nearly two years ago.
"The outcome this time could have a significant impact on the path the overall inter-Korea relationship takes next year," said Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at the Sejong Institute think tank in Seoul.
Although any talks between the two Koreas are welcomed as a positive step,
precedent suggests any significant breakthrough is unlikely.
Heading the South's side at Friday's talks was Hwang Boo-Gi, deputy head of
Seoul's Unification Ministry, which handles cross-border affairs. His counterpart was Jon Jong-Su, a vice director of the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea.
"There are many issues to be discussed. We will do our best to resolve them one by one," Hwang said before leaving Seoul.
The elephant in the room for any North-South dialogue is Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme. But while Seoul may well raise the issue of denuclearisation, experts said the two sides were likely to focus on more achievable targets.
"The North's denuclearisation needs to be seen as the ultimate goal of inter-Korea dialogue, not a pre-condition of it," said Kim Keun-Shik, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. — AFP