World Bulletin / News Desk
Following a surprise visit by North Korea’s second-in-command, North and South Korea agreed Saturday to resume high-level talks that have been suspended for the past seven months.
"In today's talks, the North said it would hold the second round of high-level contact, which we have proposed so far, between late October and early November," local news agency Yonhap quoted Seoul’s Unification Ministry Spokesperson Lim Byeong-cheol as saying.
During the highest-level meeting between the neighbors in half a decade, the North’s Hwang Pyong-so met with the South’s national security adviser Kim Kwan-jin and other senior figures for lunch in Incheon prior to the closing ceremony of the Asian Games.
The delegation from Pyongyang also spoke with South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won at the Games’ main stadium where the closing ceremony was held – marking the first time since 2007 of a serving premier from the South meeting with high-ranking North Korean officials.
The two sides did not address sensitive political issues during the 14-minute meeting, according to a news release from Chung's office, focusing rather on sports - particularly football.
"I hope that it will lead to South-North cooperation and exchanges," Chung’s office quoted him as telling the visiting delegation.
Yonhap reported that while President Park Geun-hye had expressed willingness to meet the North's officials, they courteously declined due to plans to return to Pyongyang following the closing ceremony.
While the official line out of Seoul on Saturday was that the North Koreans had flown into Incheon for the scheduled Asian Games closing ceremony in the evening, their arrival follows months of inter-Korean tensions and intense speculation about the North’s leader Kim Jong-un – whose regular public appearances via North Korea’s state media came to an abrupt halt at the start of last month.
During that period of absence, Hwang completed a rapid political and military ascent that has seen him rise to a level of seniority viewed as second only to Kim himself.
Not for the first time, Chinese social media has been awash with unsubstantiated rumors of a North Korean coup – but South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo reported this week that the North’s leader was recovering from surgery after fracturing both of his ankles.
To add further intrigue, Hwang was accompanied in Incheon on Saturday by Choe Ryong-hae – the subject of a reported purge earlier this year – and Kim Yang-gon, a figure whose influence stretches back to the leadership of the North’s founder, Kim Il-sung.
While the unification ministry spokesperson revealed that North Korean sports officials had informed them of the plan to send the delegation as late as Friday, he declined to speculate on the purpose of their arrival.
The last inter-Korean summit was held in 2007, but relations have since cooled considerably.
Only last weekend, North Korea’s state media repeated its previous description of Park as a “prostitute,” as an official statement called for her to be “removed immediately.”
The two Koreas remain technically at war as they never signed a peace treaty after a ceasefire brought the 1950-53 Korean War to a halt.Last Mod: 04 Ekim 2014, 17:41