Newspaper article International New York Times

Koreas Engage in High-Level Talks at DMZ ; at North's Instigation, South Gets Opportunity to Gauge Its Intentions

Newspaper article International New York Times

Koreas Engage in High-Level Talks at DMZ ; at North's Instigation, South Gets Opportunity to Gauge Its Intentions

Article excerpt

The meeting offered South Korean officials a rare opportunity to gauge whether the North's policies were shifting under its new leader, Kim Jong-un.

North and South Korea on Wednesday started their highest-level government dialogue since the North's nuclear test last year prompted fears of armed conflict on the divided Korean Peninsula.

The meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom on the border between the two Koreas was suggested by the North, which has recently called for better ties. The United States, whose secretary of state, John Kerry, was to travel to Seoul on Thursday, remains deeply skeptical, as does Seoul, about the motives of the North Korean government.

American and South Korean officials have accused North Korea of using charm to draw its adversaries into dialogue and win concessions while distracting attention from its ever-expanding nuclear and long-range missile programs.

Still, the meeting at Panmunjom offered senior South Korean officials a rare opportunity to gauge whether the North's policies were shifting under its new leader, Kim Jong-un. Relations between the two countries reached a low point in 2010 when a South Korean Navy patrol ship sank, killing 46 sailors, in an explosion that the South attributed to a North Korean torpedo attack.

The ties remained strained later that year, as the South curtailed trade and humanitarian aid to the North and the North attacked a South Korean island with artillery. The North further rattled the region by launching a long-range rocket in December 2012 and conducting its third nuclear test in February last year. When the United Nations Security Council tightened sanctions, the country lashed out with threats of nuclear war.

North Korea has toned down its threats since last year, and in his New Year's Day speech, Mr. Kim said he wanted to improve relations with the South. Responding to South Korea's demand that Pyongyang prove its sincerity with action, North Korea agreed last week to hold reunions this month in which hundreds of older Koreans would be allowed to meet their relatives for the first time since the three-year Korean War ended in 1953. …

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