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[Opinion] Talks on the Road of MDL

Posted May. 14, 2004 22:40,   


The 14th inter-Korean minister-level conference held in Pyongyang last week was remarkably dramatic. After announcing a joint press statement in the morning of May 7, South Korean delegates hurriedly packed their bags. The conference ended without substantial gains, which was discouraging. Just before Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun left for the airport, however, the North showed signs of a changed attitude by suggesting an unscheduled meeting between chief delegates. The North’s chief delegate Kwon Ho-ung informed Minister Jeong ten minutes later that the North’s military agreed to hold inter-Korean high-level defense talks. Suddenly a de-facto failure changed to consensus for holding high-level defense talks.

Both sides reissued a revised joint press statement that was unprecedented in international conference history as well as in that of inter-Korean talks. What made North Korea suddenly change its mind and even disregard conference procedures? It is highly likely that the South’s massive aid for victims of the train explosion in Yongcheon has changed the North’s attitude. North Korea proposed to hold the inter-Korean high-level defense talks in Mt. Geumgang on May 26, five days after the ministerial talks. Since the date and venue of the talks were proposed, the South can look forward to easing military tension by holding such talks.

However, the government cannot be too optimistic. From a broader perspective, the North’s passive attitude toward military talks should be acknowledged. In particular, the inter-Korean liaison officer talks held yesterday is concerning. The North decided to hold the liaison officer talks on the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) in the Gyeongui railway area, which is administered by the South and the North, refusing the South’s proposal to hold the talks in Panmunjeom of South Korea. It is hard to believe that constructive discussions were possible in talks held outdoors on the road. Moreover, for three months, North Korea has refused to hold the defense talks as promised in the February ministerial conference, and this is not acceptable.

Around the MDL are many buildings where South and North Korean officers can hold talks. Militaries of the two sides have met several times in the South’s Freedom House and the North’s Panmungak to work on linking the Gyeongui railways. Checkpoints of the two Koreas are also located in the Gyeongui area. The North must have strategically selected the MDL as the venue for the liaison officer talks; however, it did not insist on holding the inter-Korean liaison talks on the road along the MDL because there are no buildings there. We are perhaps expecting too much from the inter-Korean defense talks while it appears that the North is not eager for fruitful results.