2 Koreas to Proceed With Reunions of Families Separated by War
North Korea said Friday that it would honor its agreement to allow hundreds of older Koreans separated by the war on the peninsula six decades ago to reunite with their long-lost relatives, officials here said.
North Korea had threatened to scrap the reunions scheduled for this month unless South Korea canceled the joint annual military exercises it planned to begin with the United States on Feb. 24. During a high-level inter-Korean government meeting on Wednesday, the North said that if the South could not cancel the drills, it should at least postpone them for a few days so they would not overlap with the reunions slated for Feb. 20-25.
But during the second round of talks on Friday, North Korea retracted its demand and agreed to hold the reunions as scheduled, said Kim Kyu-hyun, the chief South Korean delegate.
The softening of the North’s stance came a day after Secretary of State John Kerry rejected Pyongyang’s demand.
Secretary of State John Kerry, in Beijing on Friday, urged China to pressure North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons programs.China Set to Press North Korea Further on Nuclear Aims, Kerry Says FEB. 14, 2014
If held, the family reunions would signal that relations were thawing on the peninsula after a particularly tense period last year following a North Korean nuclear test that resulted in new international sanctions.
Mr. Kim said his delegation explained that the reunions could be an important part of policy of “trust politics” espoused by South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye. Since her inauguration in February last year, Ms. Park has said that South Korea would help the impoverished North with trade and aid — but not until the North took meaningful actions to show that it could be trusted.
The two Koreas also agreed to stop slandering each other, Mr. Kim said, after an earlier request for this by the North, which is known for its flights of rhetoric against the South and the United States. The delegates also agreed to hold high-level talks again, but did not set a date, the South Korean side said.
North Korea — a police state with near-total control of information — had earlier made another demand the South would not accept: It wanted Seoul to gag conservative domestic news media and commentators whose criticism North Korean officials said had damaged the prestige of their top leader, Kim Jong-un.
Some South Korean news media and commentators have turned more hostile toward Mr. Kim and have become more skeptical about the stability of his government after he had his uncle Jang Song-thaek executed in December.
Family reunions remain a highly emotional issue for Koreans, and they are considered a key barometer of relations between the nations. No telephone, letter or email exchanges are allowed between the citizens of the two countries, so for the families separated by the war, the occasional government-arranged reunions are virtually the only chance they have to meet.
The Koreas held their last family reunions in 2010.
In recent days, South Korea has sent several trucks and 100 officials and workers to clear a heavy snowfall that has recently blanketed the Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea, where the reunions are supposed to take place.