Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Inter-Korean cooperation increasingly frail

South Korea played down speculation over imminent talks with North Korea on Tuesday, just a month ahead of scheduled reunions for relatives separated by the tense inter-Korean border.

The planned reunions were a key aspect of a cooperation deal reached between representatives of Seoul and Pyongyang on Aug. 25.

While the two sides had also agreed to hold a high-level dialogue, bilateral ties took a sharp turn for the worse this month when the North vowed to launch satellites and announced the resumption of operations at its main nuclear complex -- both of which have drawn the close concern of the United States, China and the wider United Nations.

North Korea is barred under U.N. resolutions from either carrying out nuclear tests or making use of the kind of rocket technology required to send a satellite into orbit -- and a ballistic missile as far as the U.S.

Analysts have long expected Pyongyang to launch a major provocation in line with the 70th anniversary of the authoritarian state’s Workers’ Party on Oct. 10.

Responding to a local report claiming Seoul is pushing for talks ahead of that date, a Unification Ministry official was quoted by news agency Yonhap as insisting that “nothing has been decided yet.”

The same organization reported that the North is reluctant to repeat last year’s joint events marking National Foundation Day on Oct. 3, which tradition holds to have been the starting point of the Korean nation in 2333 BC.

South Korea’s preparatory committee is understood to have so far failed to get Pyongyang to agree to holding collaborative celebrations.

North Korea’s reticence is symptomatic of the recent freeze in Seoul-Pyongyang relations, and is a potential blow to the hopes of thousands of now elderly relatives who have not seen each other due to a national division cemented during the 1950-53 Korean War.


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