Academics, legislators and former government officials are trying to do what diplomats have so far failed to: lay the foundation for lasting peace between North and South Korea, reunification of the two countries and, perhaps most importantly, nuclear disarmament.
The University of Georgia was hosting a four-day summit that opened Monday with a few dozen representatives from the two Koreas and the U.S. in attendance. The so-called Track II talks aimed to formulate policy recommendations for solving the standoff.
The talks were unofficial, and representatives from the U.S. State Department and the respective foreign ministers were not participating in the closed-door sessions. A senior North Korean ruling party official was in attendance, however.
Han S. Park, a University of Georgia professor who has ties with top officials in both Koreas and who organized the meeting, promised results.
"It is outside of the government, but it is not scholarly lip-service," Park said before the delegations broke for their meetings.
Still, they have their work cut out for them to produce a consensus for moving forward by the time the talks end Thursday. At the outset, there were already subtle signs of tension, with representatives from the countries accusing each other's government of being obstructionist and standing in the way of peace.
"We've had little good news on the Korean peninsula in three years," said Leon Sigal, director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council in New York. "In America, we say, `three strikes and you're out.' It's time to build peace."
Ri Jong Hyok, the leader of the North Korean delegation, is a member of the Supreme People's National Assembly and vice chairman of a ruling Workers' Party organization that deals with countries without diplomatic relations with the North. He said North Korea is open to peace and reunification, but how to get there is the challenge. He did not address global concerns over the North's nuclear ambitions in his opening remarks.
The talks will allow legislators from the rival Koreas to meet privately and share ideas _ a rare occurrence in the tense atmosphere that lingers on the Korean peninsula following violence last year that claimed 50 South Korean lives. U.S. reporters were being barred from sitting in on the talks, though a South Korean journalist was listed in the meeting program as an official participant.
The participants in the talks also include South Korean ruling party and opposition lawmakers; academics; senior Republican and Democratic aides on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and former U.S. government officials.
Officials are now trying to restart nuclear negotiations that stalled when North Korea walked away from the aid-for-disarmament talks in 2009. The North has since pushed for a resumption.
Officials in the United States and South Korea have so far reacted coolly to the North's overtures, saying the North must first abide by past nuclear commitments.
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