Agree To Disagree

10 Jun

Devil in a Blue DressThe North Korean delegate’s blue dress was about the only remarkable feature that a layperson could grasp without a thesaurus. Called “inter-Korean authorities’ talks”, the talks between Chun Hae-sung, head of the Unification Ministry’s policy office, and Kim Sung-hye, a senior official in North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, seemed designed to repel interest. According to Chico Harlan, it almost sounds like the two unknowns negotiated a “disagreement” – in other words, the status quo – just to say they did something.

North and South Korea held a 17-hour meeting lasting from Sunday into Monday, and they agreed to reconvene this week for what would be their highest-level talks in six years.

The dialogue Sunday, at a powder-blue hut in the middle of the demilitarized zone between the Koreas, seemed to provide evidence that Seoul and Pyongyang want to back away from the hostility of recent months — a period during which the neighbors cut nearly all ties.

But the meeting — which involved lower-level officials — wasn’t without differences, as the two sides tried to set the stage for senior-level talks. They haggled over the agenda and attendees.

Those talks are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in Seoul. But it remains unclear who will represent the two governments, and a North Korean statement said only that the talks would be held “between authorities.” South Korea said it would hold a media briefing Monday morning.

South Korea had hoped for a summit of cabinet ministers, but that has “not been agreed upon as of yet,” a spokesman for the South’s Ministry of Unification said.

That does make it sound worse than it already is – a message the South seems to encourage, either to lower expectations, or derail progress entirely. Aside from the advance in sartorial diplomacy, North Korea will take the train southbound. But, the two sides do have divergent priorities.

The outcome of this working-level meeting suggests that the South Korean government intends to focus on the issues of the Kaesong Complex, Mt. Keumgang, and the reunions of the separated families at the upcoming meetings. In contrast, it is understood that North Korea disclosed its intention to also place importance on the question of commemorating the June 15 Joint Declaration and the July 4 Joint Communique and the issues of permitting civilian traffic and contact and pursuing economic development projects, the latter of two are connected with alleviating the May 24 economic sanctions adopted by the Lee Myung-bak government after the sinking of the Cheonan warship.

There’s also the question of who will represent the North Koreans in the next round of talks on June 12.

But, you know, that dress was very bright and tasteful, and not a relic of the Cold War.

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