By Elton Gomes
South Korea said on Tuesday that it will be conducting military talks with North Korea this week. The talks will discuss ways to ease tensions along the border prior to a summit between the leaders of the two countries.
The talks come at a crucial time in the overall diplomacy, which is currently facing a hurdle as Washington presses the North for complete denuclearization.
Where will the talks be held? What will be discussed?
The talks between both Koreas have been scheduled for Thursday and will take place at the border village of Panmunjom. The talks will be held days before South Korean President Moon Jae-In meets with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un for the third time in 2018.
South Korea’s defence ministry said that the talks will deal with disarming a jointly controlled area at Panmunjom, and the Koreas will discuss removing front-line guard posts and conducting joint searches for soldiers who went missing during the Korean War.
As part of cooperative efforts between both Koreas, officials are also pushing to open a liaison office at Panmunjom, Seoul officials said.
What happened during previous talks?
When military talks were held in late July, generals from the Koreas said they had a meaningful discussion on some issues, though no accord had been signed. Experts predict that any agreement on reducing inter-Korean military tensions could be linked to progress in North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.
Generals from North and South Korea exchanged views on a possible cut in firearms and personnel to “demilitarize” the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ). Excavation within the area of the remains of soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War was also discussed. The generals discussed ways to stop firing in the skirmish-prone West Sea and decided to withdraw artillery along the shore.
A similar outcome was reached when the two Koreas met in June. North and South Korea failed to reach any concrete agreement during their military talks. The talks came just two days after US President Donald Trump floated a plan to halt joint exercises with South Korea. The talks were followed on from an inter-Korean summit in April wherein both Moon and Kim had agreed to defuse tensions and cease “all hostile acts”.
Kim pledges to work towards denuclearization
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un recently told visiting South Korean officials that he is committed towards denuclearization and said that he still has faith in US President Donald Trump. The White House said that Trump received Kim’s request to hold a second meeting between the two, and efforts were underway to make the meeting happen.
Weighing in on relations between Pyongyang and Washington, Moon said that Kim and Trump must think broadly and “make bold decisions” to take diplomacy forward and get the North to dismantle its nuclear weapons.
“North Korea must carry out its nuclear dismantling and the United States must take a corresponding step,” Moon said. “Under such a process, the two countries must pull back their deep-rooted mutual distrust caused by their 70 years of hostile relations,” the Associated Press reported. North Korea has repeatedly made claims that it has dismantled its nuclear and rocket engine testing sites. But U.S. officials have raised several doubts over these claims, and have called for more serious steps to be taken.
What’s happening between the two Koreas?
Relations between the two Koreas have continued to improve, but negotiations between North Korea and the US have hit a roadblock. Stalling diplomacy between North Korea and the US could have repercussions in South Korea, and could potentially widen the rift between Seoul and Washington.
“Things will definitely get complicated if (and) when the diplomacy seriously stalls,” said Oliver Hotham, managing editor of the Korea Risk Group. “There will definitely be those in (Seoul) who will be furious with the US,” CNN reported.
President Moon emphasized the South’s role in bringing the North closer to denuclearization. He stressed on “the importance of recognition that we are the protagonists in Korean Peninsula-related issues.” He further said, “Developments in inter-Korean relations are not the by-effects of progress in the relationship between the North and the United States. Rather, advancement in inter-Korean relations is the driving force behind denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” as per the CNN report.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius