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Militaries of two Koreas prepare for round of talks

Jan 11,2018
A day after Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to hold the first military talks under the Moon Jae-in administration to diffuse tension on the peninsula, South Korea’s National Defense Ministry said Wednesday it has begun internal discussions on the agenda and delegates.

A military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the inter-Korean dialogue will mainly be about North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, set to kick off next month in South Korea’s northeast province of Gangwon.

Given that the North said Tuesday in a high-level meeting with the South that it would send its athletes, cheerleaders, taekwondo demonstrators, journalists, observers and high-level government officials to the Games, the military source said both sides will have to talk about the delegation’s travel route to South Korea and other practical issues.

The two Koreas are expected to communicate in advance of the talks through an inter-Korean military hotline along the west coast that was restored Tuesday. Pyongyang severed it in February 2016 after the administration of President Park Geun-hye shut down the jointly run Kaesong Industrial Complex following the North’s fourth nuclear test in January and a subsequent long-range rocket launch.

According to the official, discussions with the North to prepare for the military meeting might happen by this weekend at the earliest. If any issue other than the PyeongChang Olympics arises in the meeting, it might be Seoul’s loudspeakers along the border facing the North blaring propaganda. Several North Korean soldiers who defected to the South by crossing over the demilitarized zone admitted that the broadcasts triggered their escapes.

The regime actually wants to ask Seoul to halt joint military exercises with the United States, the source said, and not to deploy any U.S. strategic assets, though the complexity of those issues may prevent them from being raised soon.

In a meeting with U.S. Army Secretary Mark T. Esper Wednesday at the Defense Ministry in Seoul, Defense Minister Song Young-moo said the South Korean government’s effort to talk with Pyongyang will “contribute to North Korea’s denuclearization,” adding that Seoul will continue close cooperation with the United States.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, LEE CHUL-JAE [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]