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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 23 (October 2, 2008)

All Headlines 11:02 October 02, 2008


Two Koreas to Hold Military Talks at Panmunjom on Oct. 2

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea agreed to hold the military talks on Oct. 2 at the joint security area inside the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas in what will be their first military dialogue in over eight months.

The talks, first proposed by the North, will begin at 10 a.m. on the South Korean side of the joint security area, better known as the truce village of Panmunjom, according to the Defense Ministry on Oct. 1.

For the past several days, the two sides have been engaged in a war of nerves on when to hold military talks to discuss bilateral thorny issues, which was first proposed by North Korea last week. In response to the North's proposal for the military talks to be held in September, Seoul has suggested that the proposed meeting be delayed until early October.

The talks will be the first of their kind since South Korea's Lee Myung-bak government was inaugurated in February. Military talks between the divided Koreas were last held on Jan. 25.

Seoul's counterproposal came four days after the North's military mission to Panmunjom suggested working-level military talks on Sept. 30. "The government believes it would be inappropriate to hold such a meeting one day before Armed Forces Day," the source said.

Seoul was planning various events, including the first street parade of service members through Seoul in five years, to mark the 60th anniversary of the foundation of its military on Oct. 1. "The government has proposed the South-North military talks be held after the Oct. 1 Armed Forces Day," the source said.

On Sept. 28, South Korea's prime minister expressed hope that the military talks proposed by North Korea, if realized, would help improve worsening ties between the two countries.

North Korea proposed on Sept. 25 a working-level military meeting be held before the end of September to discuss detailed ways to carry out unfulfilled agreements between the two countries' military authorities, Seoul's Defense Ministry said on Sept. 26.

The proposal, which came through an inter-Korean military channel, was a surprise amid the North's moves to restart its nuclear facility and intelligence reports that its leader Kim Jong-il has health problems.

"I hope North Korea will come to the dialogue with a pure intention," Prime Minister Han Seung-soo said in a special address at a Seoul forum. "I don't know what will be discussed (in the talks), but I hope it will become the starting point for improved inter-Korean relations in the future," he said.

The surprise proposal came amid mounting international concern over a multinational North Korea nuclear disarmament deal that is feared to be in danger.

Pyongyang raised tensions in September by announcing it is preparing to restore its key nuclear facilities in Yongbyon and saying it no longer expects Washington to remove the communist state from a list of terrorism-supporting countries.

On Sept. 25, the North told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it would restart the Yongbyon nuclear plant in a week, an IAEA spokeswoman said. The North also reportedly barred U.N. nuclear inspectors from the nuclear plant.

"I'm very disappointed at the North's threatening behavior, such as its recent halt to nuclear disablement, which may cause unrest," Han said. "We should resolve the nuclear crisis in a peaceful manner through the six-party talks." Seoul will deal with the nuclear issue based on the "principle of mutual benefits" and with patience, he said.

In the latest military talks in Seoul in January, the two sides agreed to continue discussions to resume a regular train cargo service between Munsan and the North's Bondong, part of the railroad that was severed during the 1950-53 Korean War. The train service was part of an agreement reached in the second inter-Korean leaders' summit in 2007 to boost inter-Korean economic exchanges.


Relations with N. Korea Will Improve After Current Cool Spell: Official

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Inter-Korean relations that have cooled in recent months will improve and become more concrete in the near future, South Korea's vice unification minister said on Sept. 30.

"The current impasses should be viewed as a process that will eventually help push South-North relations to the next level," Hong Yang-ho said at a meeting of educational groups in Seoul.

The official said that once a new chapter is opened in cross-border relations, ties should improve more rapidly and become more solid than in the past. "The current administration will not be swayed by transient difficulties, but will remain focused on long-term goals that can help establish peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula," he said.

Hong then said that while critics claim that inter-Korean relations have suffered since President Lee Myung-bak took power, Seoul has consistently requested talks despite unwarranted attacks by the North.

He pointed out that the North must realize that the present lack of dialogue is not disadvantageous to all sides, and that it would be best if the communist country understood the true intent of the new administration's desire to work together for their mutual benefit.

The vice minister also said that once talks begin, both sides must reach an understanding to honor all past pacts that are designed to improve bilateral cooperation and ease tensions.

Pyongyang has been insisting that Seoul pledge to uphold the June 15 and Oct. 4 joint declarations made in inter-Korean summits under the progressive Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, which had received criticism from conservatives for being overly lenient toward the North.

South Korea has countered that Pyongyang must first acknowledge other pacts, including the July 4 declaration reached in the early 1970s. The declaration calls for increased dialogue to bring about reunification and prevent military conflict.

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