North Korea agreed yesterday to hold a working meeting with South Korea to prepare for their second-ever summit as Seoul postponed a major military exercise as a goodwill gesture.
The two sides will meet today at the North's border city of Kaesong to discuss the agenda and other details of the summit on Aug. 28 to Aug. 30 in Pyongyang.
Defense officials said an anti-guerrilla drill involving tens of thousands of South Korean troops has been postponed till next month or October because of the summit.
They said a parallel US-South Korean military exercise known as Ulchi Focus Lens (UFL), which has been fiercely criticized by the North, would go ahead from Aug. 20 to Aug. 31 as scheduled but would be modified.
"The UFL has traditionally involved a small-scale movement of South Korean troops. But this time there will be no actual movement of South Korean troops for the joint exercise, leaving it as largely a simulated war game," a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. "This does not mean we are scaling down the joint exercise."
About 10,000 US troops are normally involved in the exercise, which involves a major computer-simulated war game on how to respond to an invasion of the South.
The North has denounced the drill as an "intolerable act of provocation." Last week its army threatened to take strong counter-measures and warned that the joint drill could disrupt a six-nation nuclear disarmament deal.
The US State Department had said Friday that Ulchi Focus Lens would go ahead despite the warning.
Seoul says it hopes the summit will lead to a permanent peace pact for the peninsula. The two Koreas have remained technically at war since the 1950-1953 conflict ended in an armistice and not a peace treaty.
Some analysts believe the North will use the summit to press its decades-old demands that Seoul scrap its military alliance with Washington. South Korea has some 680,000 troops backed up by 29,500 US troops confronting North Korea's 1.1 million-strong army.
The North routinely denounces the annual exercises in the South as a prelude to an attack, while the US insists they are purely defensive.
The unification ministry said the North had called for the first preparatory talks on the summit to be held today after rejecting the South's proposal to meet yesterday.
The meeting will cover all aspects including transportation, the itinerary, communications, media, protocol and security, said ministry spokesman Kim Nam-shik.
Vice Unification Minister Lee Kwan-se will lead the South's three-member delegation while his North Korean counterpart will be Choe Sung-chol, he said.