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North Korea abruptly backs out of talks with South

June 11, 2013|By Jung-yoon Choi
  • South Korean Unification Ministry officials talk Tuesday at the venue for the Koreas' high-level meeting at the Grand Hilton Hotel in Seoul. South Korea said its planned talks with North Korea have been scrapped.
South Korean Unification Ministry officials talk Tuesday at the venue… (Ahn Young-joon / Associated…)

SEOUL -- Talks between North and South Korea scheduled to be held this week were abruptly canceled Tuesday, with Pyongyang dissatisfied over the makeup of the South's delegation.

South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles North Korean issues, told a hastily called news briefing that "the North has unilaterally notified that they will hold off detaching their delegation," expressing dissatisfaction with Seoul's choice of a vice minister as the chief delegate.

Ministry spokesperson Kim Hyeong-seok added the government "deeply regrets" the North's decision to cancel the sessions planned for Wednesday and Thursday.

The liaison officials at the border who handle communication between the two Koreas left their posts for the day, indicating that there will be no further direct negotiations Tuesday.

Seoul and Pyongyang had exchanged the list of their five-member delegates, including a chief delegate, earlier in the day. The South Korean government said North Korea was not satisfied with the choice of Vice Minister Kim Nam-sik to head the South's delegations. The North had named Kang Ji Young, a director of its Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, to lead its team.

Relations between the two nations have been strained in recent months by a series of events, including the North's launch of a missile and test of a nuclear device and the South's military exercises with U.S. forces. In April, North Korea shut down a joint industrial zone near the border that employed 50,000 workers. 

On Thursday, North Korea proposed holding inter-Korean talks to resolve issues that included reopening the Kaesong Industrial Zone and resuming reunions of families long separated by the border.

After several counterproposals, delegates from the two Koreas held 18-hour working-level talks Sunday and agreed to hold the first government-level negotiations in six years starting Wednesday.

North Korean analysts said the outcome of a summit last weekend between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping may have caused the change of heart in Pyongyang.

"North Korea made the proposal to hold a working-level meeting ahead of U.S.-China talks,"  said Koh Yoo-hwan, North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University in Seoul. "But with Obama and Xi confirming their firm stance on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in their meeting, the North might have judged that it's hard to turn around the table and lost sincerity toward North-South talks."

The North's goal is to ease its economic woes by improving relations with the U.S., said Kim Seung-hwan, professor of international affairs at Myongji University in Seoul. Negotiations with the South are a step in that direction, Kim said, "but really, the North didn't expect a substantial outcome from the inter-Korean talks."

The two Koreas will try to resume working-level talks but will take awhile to move on to high-level negotiations, Kim added.

South Korean news agency Yonhap news reported late Tuesday that the Blue House, South Korea's presidential office, told reporters that North Korea "imposing submission and degradation on the other side as in the past is not desirable for the growth of South-North Koreas' relations."

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