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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Seoul and Pyongyang began high-level inter-Korean talks on Monday morning, in which the two sides are expected to discuss plans for a third meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
The meetings began at 1000 KST at Tongilgak, on the northern part of the truce village of Panmunjom, and are the first of their kind since June.
Seoul’s delegation to Monday’s meeting is led by Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon.
He is joined by Second Deputy Chief of the Presidential National Security Office Nam Gwan-pyo, Vice Minister of Unification Chun Hae-sung, and Deputy Director-General of Prime Minister’s Office Ahn Moon-hyun.
This will be Nam’s first time participating in high-level inter-Korean talks.
The South Korean Presidential Spokesperson said he was the “right person who is responsible for the related tasks at the Blue House and knows best about the denuclearization issue and the contents of the April 27 agreement.”
The North, in turn, is sending a five-member delegation mostly composed of officials related to inter-Korean economic cooperation.
Ri Son Gwon, who serves as chairman of the DPRK’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC), is serving as chief delegate.
Vice-chairman of the CPRC Pak Yong Il, vice minister of Railways Kim Yun Hyok, Vice-Minister of Land and Environmental Protection Pak Ho Yong, and Vice-chairman of the National Economic Cooperation Committee Pak Myong Chol are also participating in the meeting.
Chief North Korean delegate Ri on Monday confirmed that both sides would discuss plans for the upcoming inter-Korean summit, expected to take place in Pyongyang.
“As [the consultation] on the meeting of the North and South Korean leaders in Pyongyang been underway, I believe we can provide a definite answer to problems that our people wish [to resolve],” Ri said in his opening speech.
Ri also said Seoul and Pyongyang would conduct a general review on ongoing working-level sectoral meetings and seek measures to “actively push forward” related inter-Korean agreements.
The DPRK chief delegate described North-South relations as an “intimate friendship,” adding that there has been a “massive shift.”
“I realized again that we face the era where we can move forward hand in hand,” he said.
In his opening speech, Ri reiterated past calls for the meetings to be open to the media, explaining that the South Korean press had made errors in their coverage of talks because “they don’t know about the actual situation of the meeting.”
“It’s high time to change the culture of the meeting,” Ri said. “It’s necessary to hold the talks in a transparent manner so that the facts can be shared more fairly.”
Unification minister Cho, in response, agreed on the need for more open meetings, though asked that today’s talks be held behind closed doors.
Speaking at a press conference before departing for the talks, the unification minister said both sides hoped to use the meeting to review progress in the implementation of April’s Panmunjom Declaration and discuss measures to continue that progress.
Cho declined to say whether Seoul had proposed a date for the planned inter-Korean summit.
“I think it’s too early to make mention of such details at the current stage,” he told assembled media.
A spokesperson for the Blue House on Sunday, however, said the Presidential office expects both sides to reach an agreement on the “time, place, and the scale of the delegation to North Korea” at talks today.
April’s Panmunjom Declaration saw President Moon agree to visit Pyongyang this fall in order to continue “frequent and candid discussions” on pending issues through regular meetings and direct phone conversations with Kim Jong Un.
When ask on Monday if Pyongyang had raised the issue of easing sanctions, unification minister Cho said Pyongyang may raise the topic at today’s talks and that Seoul will “explain” its stance.
North Korea’s state-run media has in recent weeks urged Seoul to accelerate its implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration, denouncing the Moon administration for its adherence to the international sanctions framework.
North Korea’s state-run Uriminzokkiri on Monday released the article warning that “sanctions and pressure and the improvement of relations can never be compatible.”
The outlet accused Seoul of an “ambivalent attitude comments on dialogue and cooperation,” acting friendly towards the North while “being more faithful to its master’s orders of ‘sanctions and pressure.’”
Uriminzokkiri said the South Korean government’s attitude provoked the “resentment of the entire nation.”
The South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced on Thursday that the North had proposed Monday’s meeting to discuss preparations for the next inter-Korean summit and to review the progress of the implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration.
The unification ministry said the two Koreas would hold an “in-depth discussion” on measures to accelerate implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration and on the next inter-Korean summit.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Ministry of Unification (MOU)