TASS news agency reported that talks between North and South Korea began Tuesday morning in Panmunjom, and ran for 11 hours. The main topic for this round of discussions centered on real and practical steps to improve relations between the South and North, with the possibility of the North Korean team participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in PyeoungChang.
Each country sent a delegation of at least five people, with Unification Minister Cho Mroung-gyon for the South, and Ri Son Gwon of the North.
This follows through from the New Year’s address made by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in which he ordered his government to create every condition that would be helpful in improving relations with the Republic of Korea (the South). This is not just for the sake of the Olympic Games, but it does appear to express the wish to de-escalate the tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The North’s address further stressed the wish for normalization of relations between the two separated countries, AND hope for reunification as well.
Moscow has had a standing offer to help mediate a reconciliation between the USA and North Korea – this being offered on December 26th, in the midst of tensions that escalated after North Korea carried out a missile launch of their Hwasong-15 ICBM.
After this happened, the UN approved sanctions seen by many to be the most restrictive yet on North Korea, with even their longstanding ally, China, agreeing to tighten the screws. These latest conciliatory actions have happened since the sanctions got tightened, and while it is certain that the North has not admitted defeat, it remains possible that they might have been “inspired” to make a turn in their foreign policy.
Much has been made of the tensions in the region, but polling taken with groups of people in the USA, Brazil, and Europe give much different responses to the question of likelihood of war in the Peninsula than the response of southeast Asians. As reported right here at the Duran, the South Korean population surveys show only about a 1-in-5 person ratio of those who believe there will be war between the North and the US this year. In the USA the number is higher, at about 47 percent.
Further making the point that North Korea seems to be reacting only to the United States, at the talks today, Ri Son Gwon, the chief negotiator at Pyongyang said:
“All our weapons including atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs and ballistic missiles are only aimed at the United States, not our brethren, nor China and Russia,”
He went on to state that since North Korea’s nuclear weapons are only aimed at the USA, there would be no need to discuss them at the negotiations in Panmunjom. These comments came at the conclusion of the marathon session today. The result of today’s talks was a decision to hold more talks; that is, negotiations to resolve problems and prevent accidental conflict. This therefore has become the first inter-Korean dialogue in over two years. At this time, the North still resists the South’s wish to remove nuclear weapons from the peninsula.
This story continues to develop. The notion that the North, in a rather clever leadership move by Kim Jong-un, may be trying to remove the relevance of the United States by having direct discussions with their southern counterparts, still seems very strong. The relations of the people on the Korean peninsula are much more ancient than 1950, and the idea that this old feud could be solved locally is quite attractive to the South apparently. The American government may lose face if it continues to bluster about this situation, because it may get solved without American help. This is the most interesting possibility that this situation presents.