Seoul, South Korea: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and South Korea kicked off high-level talks Monday in the border village of Panmunjom to discuss ways to implement the Pyongyang Declaration, which the leaders of the two Koreas announced in the latest summit in Pyongyang in September.
The senior-level dialogue started at 10:00 a.m. local time (0100 GMT) as scheduled at the Peace House, a South Korean building in the truce village, according to a pool report from South Korean media.
The five-member South Korean delegation was led by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon.
Before heading to the dialogue venue, Cho told reporters that the dialogue agenda would be the implementation of the Pyongyang Declaration and schedules for working-level talks for detailed discussion.
Cho Myoung-gyon said the discussions will include setting up a joint survey of a North Korean railroad section the Koreas plan to connect with the South. The North’s chief delegate to the talks is Ri Son Gwon, who chairs the North Korean agency that deals with inter-Korean affairs.
There could also be discussions over the specifics of a joint military committee agreed between their leaders to evaluate tension-reduction steps and maintain communication to prevent crises and accidental clashes.
The DPRK delegation was headed by Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.
The Pyongyang Declaration was signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and top DPRK leader Kim Jong Un after their third summit in Pyongyang in September.
To implement the declaration, the senior delegates from the two Koreas were forecast to discuss ways to modernize and connect railways and roads across the inter-Korean border and form a joint military committee to stop hostile acts near the border.
They were also expected to fix the date for Red Cross talks to discuss the launch of a venue for regular reunion of Korean families, separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War, while discussing cultural and sports exchanges.
The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war as the three-year war ended with armistice.
The meeting between senior officials comes at a sensitive time as Washington has expressed unease over the fast pace in inter-Korean engagement, which it says should move in tandem with U.S.-led efforts to denuclearize the North.
In their third summit this year, Moon and Kim committed to reviving economic cooperation when possible, voicing optimism that international sanctions could end and allow such activity, and holding a groundbreaking ceremony by the end of the year on an ambitious project to connect their roads and railways.
The North and South also announced measures to reduce conventional military threats, such as creating buffer zones along their land and sea boundaries and a no-fly zone above the border, removing 11 front-line guard posts by December, and demining sections of the Demilitarized Zone. The Koreas also said they will make a push to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics.
Moon has described inter-Korean engagement as crucial to resolving the nuclear standoff and is eager to restart joint economic projects held back by sanctions if the larger nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea begin yielding results.
However, South Korea’s enthusiasm for engagement with its rival appears to have created discomfort with ally United States amid growing concerns that the North is lagging behind its supposed promise to denuclearize.
Moon’s government last week walked back on a proposal to lift some of its unilateral sanctions against North Korea following U.S. President Donald Trump’s blunt retort that Seoul could “do nothing” without Washington’s approval.
South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha also said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had expressed displeasure about the Koreas’ military agreement. Kang was not specific but her comments fueled speculation Washington wasn’t fully on board before Seoul signed the agreement.
Despite three summits with Moon and one with Trump in June, Kim has yet to provide a convincing sign that he’s ready to deal away his nuclear weapons, which he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival. Pompeo recently visited Kim in Pyongyang in an effort to set up another summit between him and Trump following rocky exchanges in lower-level talks that saw North Korea accuse Washington of “gangster-like” demands on denuclearization.
South Korea and the DPRK agreed on Monday to hold a groundbreaking ceremony in late November or early December to connect railways and roads across the inter-Korean border.