The Koreas’ first high-level talks in six years have been scrapped because of a stalemate over who will lead each delegation, South Korea said yesterday, a day before they were to begin.
The cancellation is a blow to tentative hopes that the rivals were about to improve ties following years of rising hostility.
North Korea said it wasn’t sending its officials to Seoul for the two-day meeting that was to begin today because the South had changed the head of its delegation, Kim Hyung-suk, a spokesman for Seoul’s Unification Ministry, told reporters in a briefing.
South Korea had originally wanted a minister-level meeting between the top officials for each country’s inter-Korean affairs agency, but Pyongyang would not commit to that. When Seoul told Pyongyang yesterday that it was sending a lower-level official than it had initially proposed in preparatory talks, North Korea said it would consider that a “provocation,” Kim said.
The cancellation of talks arises partly from misunderstandings that the sides have about who is equivalent to whom in power between their different political systems, said Koh Yu-hwan, an expert on North Korea at Dongguk University.
“The two sides are offended by each other now. The relations may again undergo a cooling-off period before negotiations for further talks resume,” he said.
The talks were set up in a painstaking 17-hour negotiating session on Sunday, but the rivals had set aside the question of who would lead each delegation.
Kim said Seoul is still open to talks if North Korea reconsiders.