Though there is no specific agenda being selected in advance, the talks between North and South Korean officials are aimed to cover a range of “major” issues, including a planned February 20-25 reunion for family members divided by the Korean War.
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 Pyongyang that included an abrupt cancellation of an invitation for a US envoy to visit.
This comes after South Korea expressed regrets last week over North Korea’s linking the issue of reunion of families separated in the 1950-53 Korean War with the military issue after Pyongyang called Seoul to cancel its upcoming joint military exercises with the US.
Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to hold on Feb 20-25 the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. The reunion is proposed to be held at North Korea’s scenic resort of Mount Kumgang.
South Korea is being represented by National Security Council official Kim Kyou-Hyun, while The South Korean delegation is led by President Park Geun-hye’s deputy national security adviser.
According to reports, the North side is likely to make another push for South Korea to cancel its annual military drills with the United States, which are slated to begin February 24.
Kim said he was entering the talks, which kicked off at 10:00 am (0100 GMT), with “an open attitude to explore the chance of opening a new chapter on the Korean peninsula”.
He did not mention whether North Korea’s nuclear programme would be discussed.
It was the first such high-level sit-down between the two sides since 2007, and came a day before US Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival in Seoul for a brief visit focused on North Korea.
The morning session lasted 90 minutes, with the two sides reconvening after lunch on the South side of the border village where the armistice ending the 1950-53 Korean conflict was signed 60 years ago.
Seoul and Washington have made it clear there is no question of this year’s drills being cancelled, but US officials have indicated they will be toned down, with no aircraft carrier and no strategic bombers.
South Korea halted all trade and most investment with the impoverished North Korea in May 2010 after the sinking of one of its warships, which it blamed on Pyongyang.
A joint factory project in the North’s border city of Kaesong is the last remaining symbol of economic cooperation between the two Koreas.