North and South Korea agreed on Friday to move forward with reunions of families separated by the Korean War, irrespective of an earlier condition put out by North Korea to the South to postpone military exercises with the United States.
The agreement clearly represented a concession by the North, which has made unpredictable diplomatic moves over the past month. The North had proposed the reunions, but then threatened to withdraw consent over a sortie by a US B52 bomber.
It had also demanded that the South call off annual defense drills later this month with the United States on grounds that they overlapped with the proposed reunions.
The South refused, saying the reunions and the military exercises should be treated separately.
In the end, there was no link between the issues in a three-point agreement reached after two sessions of talks this week, the first high-level meetings between the sides in seven years.
“We tried to drive home the point that the family reunion event will be the first step in building trust so we should press ahead with it,” South Korea’s chief delegate, Kim Kyou-hyun, told a news briefing.
“The North accepted this point in the end and we came to the agreement,” he said.
Kim is South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s deputy national security adviser.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Seoul on Thursday it was inappropriate for North Korea to link the family reunions with the military exercises.
The two Koreas, still in theory at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended only with an armistice, also agreed to stop engaging in denunciations of each other’s leadership. In a third point, they said the two sides would meet again to discuss matters of interest.
Only a week ago, the reclusive North reversed position and withdrew, at the last minute, an invitation for a U.S. envoy to visit its capital to discuss the release of a U.S. missionary jailed for “hostile acts”.
North Korea’s chief delegate to the talks at the Panmunjom “truce” village on the border was Won Tong Yon, the second highest ranking official in the ruling Workers’ Party United Front Department, which looks after dealings with the South.