Top aides to the leaders of North and South Korea met at the Panmunjom truce village straddling their border yesterday, raising hopes for an end to a standoff that put the rivals on the brink of armed conflict.
The meeting at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) village, known for its sky-blue huts and grim-faced soldiers, was set for half an hour after North Korea’s previously set ultimatum demanding that the South halt its loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the border or face military action.
That deadline passed without any reported incidents.
Tension on the Korean Peninsula has been running high since an exchange of artillery fire on Thursday, prompting calls for calm from the UN, the US and North Korea’s only major ally, China. South Korea’s military remained on high alert despite the announced talks, a South Korean Ministry of Defense official said.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s national security adviser and her unification minister met North Korean National Defense Commission Vice Chairman Hwang Pyong-so, who is North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s top military aide, at 6pm.
“The South and the North agreed to hold contact related to the ongoing situation in South-North relations,” Blue House deputy national security adviser Kim Kyou-hyun said in a televised briefing.
Pyongyang on Friday made an initial proposal for a meeting, and Seoul made a revised proposal yesterday seeking Hwang’s attendance, Kim said.
The North’s KCNA news agency also announced the meeting, referring to the South as the Republic of Korea, a rare formal recognition of its rival state, in sharp contrast to the bellicose rhetoric in recent days.
“They need to come up with some sort of an agreement where both sides have saved face. That would be the trick,” Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies academic James Kim said. “North Korea will probably demand that the broadcasts be cut, and they may even come to an impasse on that issue.”
North Korea, technically still at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, had declared a “quasi-state of war” in front-line areas and set the deadline for Seoul to halt the broadcasts from loudspeakers placed along the border.
“The situation on the Korean Peninsula is now inching close to the brink of a war due to the reckless provocations made by the South Korean military war hawks,” the North’s KCNA news agency said earlier.
“The fact that these powerful officials who represent South and North Korea’s leaders are meeting means this is a great time to turn the crisis into opportunity,” Seou’s University of North Korean Studies professor Yang Moo-jin said. “It is a breakthrough.”
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