Diplomatic Talks Between North and South Korea Collapse Before They Begin

Has anyone had success in negotiating with N. Korea?

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Recently resumed diplomatic talks between North and South Korea have "collapsed," say reports coming from Seoul, in what was the first meeting between the two countries since tensions flared after the North's military attacked a South Korean island in November, killing four people. Many had speculated at the time about the possibility of all-out war on the Korean Peninsula, and the two countries have been "technically" at war since 1953 when a civil conflict ended with a truce and not a treaty, according to Reuters. North Korean officials walked away from the table after no more than five hours into the second round of talks, "unilaterally" marking the end of the attempted dialogue, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry. The two countries couldn't even agree on an agenda.

North Korea remains an unpredictable (and nuclear) threat in a region responsible for one-sixth of the world's economy. It has yet to acknowledge two attacks on South Korea in the last year--the artillery assault of Yeonpyeong Island, and the sinking of a S. Korean ship on March 26 of last year that killed 46 people--and has been notoriously difficult and unwilling to negotiate. Why did the talks happen in the first place? What was on the table? What did each side hope to get from the exchange? Where does this leave things for the future? Some early reactions.

  • They Didn't Make It Very Far Jeremy Laurence and Cho Mee-young at Reuters note that while "colonels from the two Koreas....talked for two days" they "failed to get past the first hurdle of the preliminary meeting--setting the agenda for senior discussions."
  • And Here's Why "South Korea wanted North Korea to acknowledge—and move toward some form of apology for—its attacks on the South last year, including the Nov. 23 artillery barrage of Yeonpyeong Island, which killed four people, and the March 26 sinking of a patrol ship, which killed 46," says Evan Ramstad at the Wall Street Journal, while "North Korea's representatives at the talks on Tuesday said that South Korea's insistence on talking about those matters amounted to a rejection of the importance of discussions."
  • So In That Case, Why Negotiate At All? The North Koreans were partially brought to the table by China. "China, North Korea's closest ally, is believed by many outsiders to have pressured it into talking." says Ramstad at the WSJ. "Beijing is thought to have become angry over Pyongyang's belligerence, most notably after its attack on a South Korean island in November," he remarks, noting that North Korea's support from China may depend on its behavior towards the South. Peter Foster at The Telegraph questions South Korea's participation at all, noting that Kim Jong-il's regime has failed to deliver on any of the promises it's made at negotiations since 2003.
"Both Seoul and Washington have vowed not to repeat the mistakes of earlier negotiations in which North Korea was showered with aid in return for pledges that it would give up its nuclear weapons – pledges it reneged on time and again....Given that almost no-one believes that North Korea will give up its trump nuclear negotiating card...why bother talking at all?"
  • What Remains At Stake Chosunilbo a South Korean daily, wonders about the vulnerability of the South to special ops infiltration from the North, noting the "1.5 million South Korean soldiers and police" that "had to be mobilized...for a mere 26 North Korean operatives and 26 submarine crewmembers who fled into the mountains of Gangwon Province" in 1996. How would South Korea's "20,000 elite special troops," stand up to North Korea's "60,000 specialized troops and 140,000 light infantry soldiers"?  Justin McCurry at the Guardian reports that talks between the two countries' Red Cross agencies to resuming meetings between separated families are still planned, though they have not set a date. "Hundreds of thousands of people were separated during the war. More than 20,000 elderly South Koreans have been briefly reunited with relatives from the North over the past 10 years, but many among the 80,000 others may die before they are given the chance to meet relatives they last saw six decades ago," he says.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.