Are Seoul and Pyongyang approaching peaceful settlement?
The authorities of Pyongyang and Seoul today agreed on negotiations to resolve problems and military talks aimed at averting accidental conflict, after their first official dialogue in more than two years, as Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program fuels tension.
In a joint statement after the 11-hour talks, the North pledged to send a large delegation to next month's Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the South, but made a 'strong complaint' after Seoul proposed talks to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
South Korea asked its neighbor to halt hostile acts that stoke tension on the peninsula, and in return, the North agreed that peace should be guaranteed in the region, the South's unification ministry said in a separate statement.
The talks had been closely watched by world leaders keen for any sign of a reduction in tension, as fears grow over the North's missile launches and development of nuclear weapons, in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions, Reuters reported.
The operation of the communication channel between the military of the two countries was suspended in 2013 at North Korea’s initiative. South Korea and North Korea restored another special communications line in the border village of Panmunjom on January 3. On January 5, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification declared that Pyongyang had taken Seoul’s proposal to hold the first high-level negotiations since December 2015. They were held in Panmunjom on Tuesday.
The head of the program 'Russia in the Asia-Pacific region' of the Moscow Carnegie Center, Alexander Gabuev, speaking with Vestnik Kavkaza, noted that Seoul should calm the situation before the Olympics. "For Seoul, the situation has developed in a rather dangerous direction, because after the missile and nuclear tests carried out this autumn, the possibility that the US will deal a limited blow to the DPRK has increased. Any opportunity to reduce tensions through negotiations works for the interests of Moon Jae-in, since the Olympics in Seoul is approaching. The proximity of the war on the eve of the Olympics gives a high risk of provocations and complications, which are not in the best interests of South Korea," he explained.
Pyongyang needs a break as well. "It's also not the easiest moment for North Korea, as new international sanctions has already started to affect it. It is in the interests of Pyongyang to avoid further tightening of the sanctions regime and prevent serious military consequences, because in this case Seoul will have an occasion to convince Washington not to use military measures. These two vector on both sides coincided, so the talks have started," Alexander Gabuev stressed.
According to his forecasts, both sides will be engaged in the work to secure the de-escalation regime in the near future. "But it is not yet clear how the US will behave," the head of the program 'Russia in the Asia-Pacific region' of the Moscow Carnegie Center warned.