The meeting was set up with unusual speed and great secrecy at the
North's suggestion last week, the latest example of conflicting
signals coming from North Korea that included an abrupt cancellation
of an invitation for a U.S. envoy to visit.
The two sides met at the Panmunjom truce village on the border with
no pre-arranged agenda and discussed a range of issues including
reunions of families separated during their 1950-53 Korean War, a
South Korean official said.
The North has demanded that the South and the United States scrap
the military exercises, due to start later this month, but both
sides have plenty of incentives to seek a deal that could break
their long stalemate.
"For the North, if it comes back with an accomplishment in terms of
improved South-North ties, it will mean a better atmosphere for Kim
Jong Un to visit China and a justification to pursue high-level
talks with the United States," said Cheong Seong-chang, an expert at
the Sejong Institute outside Seoul.
North Korean leader Kim is believed to be seeking a visit to China,
the North's greatest ally and main benefactor, to reinforce his
legitimacy as leader. In his early 30s, Kim took power when his
father died suddenly in 2011.
The South Korean delegation was led by President Park Geun-hye's
deputy national security adviser. North Korea has sent the
second-highest ranking official in the ruling Workers' Party
department charged with ties with the South.
The meeting comes a week before the two sides are scheduled to hold
reunions of family members separated since the Korean War at the
Mount Kumgang resort just inside the North, which is considered a
major humanitarian event by the South.
[to top of second column]
However, the North has threatened to cancel the reunions, citing a
sortie last week by a nuclear-capable U.S. B-52 bomber near the
The North has also called the annual military exercises between
South Korean and U.S. forces a rehearsal for war despite repeated
assertions by Seoul and Washington that the drills are routine and
defensive. The United States has about 28,500 troops stationed in
North Korea has cancelled an invitation for U.S. human rights envoy
Robert King to visit Pyongyang to discuss the release of imprisoned
U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae, which had been expected to come as
early as this week.
South Korea halted all trade and most investment with the North in
May 2010 after the sinking of one of its warships, which it blamed
A joint factory project in the North's border city of Kaesong, which
generates about $90 million annually in wages for the impoverished
state, is the last remaining symbol of economic cooperation between
the two Koreas.
(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park; editing by Robert Birsel)
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