SEOUL (Reuters) — North and South Korea
agreed on Friday to proceed with reunions of families separated by the
Korean War despite an earlier North Korean demand that they could only
go ahead if the South postponed military exercises with the United
The agreement clearly represented a concession by the North, which
has made unpredictable diplomatic moves over the past month. The
North had proposed the reunions, but then threatened to withdraw
consent over a sortie by a U.S. B52 bomber.
It had also demanded that the South call off annual defense drills
later this month with the United States on grounds that they
overlapped with the proposed reunions. The South refused, saying the
reunions and the military exercises should be treated separately.
In the end, there was no link between the issues in a three-point
agreement reached after two sessions of talks this week, the first
high-level meetings between the sides in seven years.
"We tried to drive home the point that the family reunion event will
be the first step in building trust so we should press ahead with
it," South Korea's chief delegate, Kim Kyou-hyun, told a news
"The North accepted this point in the end and we came to the
agreement," he said. Kim is South Korean President Park Geun-hye's
deputy national security adviser.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Seoul on Thursday it was
inappropriate for North Korea to link the family reunions with the
The two Koreas, still in theory at war as the 1950-53 Korean War
ended only with an armistice, also agreed to stop engaging in
denunciations of each other's leadership. In a third point, they
said the two sides would meet again to discuss matters of interest.
Only a week ago, the reclusive North reversed position and withdraw
at the last minute an invitation for a U.S. envoy to visit its
capital to discuss the release of a U.S. missionary jailed for
North Korea's chief delegate to the talks at the Panmunjom "truce"
village on the border was Won Tong Yon, the second highest ranking
official in the ruling Workers' Party United Front Department, which
looks after dealings with the South.
Jeung Young-tae of the Korea Institute for National Unification in
Seoul said both sides came away with a face-saving deal and were
able to claim a small victory.
"Using family reunions, North Korea has achieved one of its goals of
getting the South to agree to stop denouncing each other's
leadership," he said. "And South Korea also got what it has been
pursuing — opening the door to dialogue."
The North denounces the annual exercises with the United States,
which maintains about 28,500 troops in the South, as a rehearsal for
an invasion. The South and Washington say they have been conducted
for years without incident.
The North threatened during last year's drills to attack the South
and the United States in weeks of shrill rhetoric that following the
imposition of new U.N. sanctions in response to a new nuclear test
China, North Korea's sole diplomatic ally, pushed back against a
call from Kerry during his visit to Seoul for China to do more to
bring North Korea into line.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Kerry in Beijing on Friday, in
comments reported by China's state media, that Beijing would not
tolerate any chaos or war on the Korean peninsula.
(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park and by Ben Blanchard in
Beijing; editing by Ron Popeski)