SEOUL, South Korea – The two Koreas will hold their highest-level talks in years on Wednesday, South Korean officials said, in a possible sign that North Korea wants a quick improvement in ties and the resumption of lucrative cooperative projects.
Officials said Tuesday the meeting was requested by North Korea, which has launched a recent charm offensive after raising tensions last spring with repeated threats of nuclear strikes against Seoul and Washington. Later this month, the two Koreas are to hold reunions of families separated since the 1950-53 Korean War for the first time in more than three years.
Wednesday's meeting has no fixed agenda, but the two sides are expected to discuss how to make the reunions run smoothly and whether to pursue them regularly, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do told reporters.
North Korea canceled planned reunions at the last minute in September, and has recently threatened to scrap this month's reunions because of upcoming U.S.-South Korean military drills, which it claims are preparations for an invasion. But outside analysts say it's unlikely that North Korea will halt the reunions this time because it needs improved ties with South Korea to help attract foreign investment and aid.
Heavy snowfall at the North Korean resort set to host the reunions, however, has raised worries about the venue.
South Korea will send a vice-ministerial-level official to the meeting Wednesday, while North Korea will send senior ruling Workers' Party official Won Tong Yon, a veteran official specializing in ties with Seoul, officials said.
The meeting would be the highest between the Koreas in years. They held a series of high-level meetings in 2007, including a second summit of their leaders, according to the Unification Ministry, which is responsible for South Korea's relations with North Korea.
Nuclear envoys met in 2011 on the sidelines of a regional security forum in Indonesia. Since then, ties have become increasingly bad. Last June, plans to hold a high-level meeting fell apart because of a protocol dispute over who would represent each side.
North Korea is expected to demand on Wednesday that South Korea agree to restart a lucrative joint tourism project in North Korea, increase humanitarian aid and downsize the upcoming military drills with the U.S., said Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor at Korea University in South Korea.
Yoo said the fact that North Korea proposed the meeting and is sending an important official specializing in inter-Korean ties is a sign it wants to showcase its desire for better ties in a "more explicit manner."
The Korean Peninsula officially remains in a state of war because the Korean War ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.