Five high-level North Korean negotiators came to Seoul today to discuss implementing agreements reached at last month’s first summit between the leaders of the two Koreas.
The North Korean delegation, led by senior Cabinet councilor Jon Kum Jin, flew in on a commercial flight from Beijing because there are no direct air links between North and South Korea.
“We’ve come here as envoys for national unity and unification with the grave mission of fulfilling the implementation of the summit agreements,” Jon said upon his arrival.
From the airport, the North Korean envoys, accompanied by 13 assistants and seven journalists, headed to a five-star hotel for an introductory round of reconciliation talks that end Monday.
First High-Level Visit Since ’92
It was the first visit to Seoul by a senior North Korean delegation since 1992, when prime ministers of the two sides visited each other’s capitals for reconciliation talks. Those negotiations were overshadowed by political tension.
This time, however, there are fresh hopes for peace following the June meeting in Pyongyang between leaders of communist North Korea and democratic South Korea. Relations between the countries have been tense since the 1950-53 Korean War.
The envoys were expected to discuss various ways of easing 50 years of animosity between the two sides. A proposed visit to South Korea by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il also was expected to be on the agenda.
No Military, Economic Officials
The North Korean delegation does not include any officials handling military and economic affairs, a disappointment to South Korean negotiators who had hoped to discuss opening a military hot line and connecting rail links across the sealed border.
Long viewed by the United States and other countries as a threat to regional stability, North Korea has been seeking contacts with a range of nations. Pyongyang’s desperation for economic aid is believed to be a motive for its vigorous efforts to break out of isolation.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright held talks with Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun at an Asian security forum in Bangkok, Thailand. It was the highest-level meeting between the United States and North Korea since the Korean War.
Albright said the meeting was friendly, but largely symbolic. She had hoped to learn about Pyongyang’s reported intentions to curb its missile program, which fueled the U.S. drive to erect a national missile defense.
Work Toward Runification?
At their summit, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong Il agreed to set aside the enmity of the past and work toward eventual reunification.
Despite the conciliatory mood, South Korea’s Kim has said reunification could take two or three decades and has warned his military to stay on alert.
Jon, the chief North Korean negotiator, is a South Korea expert who led negotiations with his South Korean counterparts on rice and fertilizer aid to his hungry homeland in the mid- and late 1990s.
He also is vice chairman of the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, which handles South Korean investment in the North and promotes exchanges with nations that have no diplomatic ties with it.
The South Korean delegation was led by Unification Minister Park Jae-kyu.
The June summit was the biggest diplomatic breakthrough in relations between the two Koreas, which were partitioned at the end of World War II by U.S. and Soviet troops.