North-South Korea talks in US serious, but civil

AP News
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Posted: Oct 18, 2011 4:42 PM
North-South Korea talks in US serious, but civil

North and South Korean representatives holding informal talks meant to help resolve a nuclear standoff are sitting together at meals in the U.S., sharing laughs and even breaking out together in song.

But longstanding disputes still cropped up Tuesday on the second day of the summit being held at the University of Georgia, the site chosen for the discussions.

Members of the U.S. and South Korea delegations told The Associated Press that the closed-door talks have been serious at times and light-hearted and respectful at other moments.

"That doesn't mean they are agreeing, but it is important," said Jim Walsh, an expert in international security and a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Security Studies Program. "In there, they're all Koreans. The Americans are the foreigners in the room."

At dinner Monday night, North and South Korean delegates sat with each other as they dined on filet mignon, pan-seared tuna and chocolate tart. At one point they stood and joined each other in song as South Korean violinist Yong-Ku Ahn played a folk tune familiar to both sides, according to several people who were present.

Walsh, who is taking part in the sessions, said he doesn't expect the North to agree to firm preconditions to resume official six-party nuclear talks. But he believes there will have to be compromise on all sides.

"I don't expect the Americans to report to the government that the U.S. should do everything North Korea wants and I don't expect South Korea to go back and tell their government that," Walsh said. "Our job is not to be diplomats, but it is because we are not diplomats that we have a little more room to move."

The talks allow legislators from the rival Koreas to meet privately and share ideas _ a rare occurrence in the tense atmosphere that persists on the Korean peninsula after violence last year that claimed 50 South Korean lives.

Animosity has run high between the Koreas since two deadly attacks blamed on North Korea last year. The North has denied involvement in the March 2010 sinking of a warship that killed 46 South Korean sailors and argued that a November artillery barrage that killed four was provoked by South Korean firing drills.

Representatives from the U.S. State Department and the respective foreign ministers were not participating in the sessions, but a senior North Korean ruling party official was in attendance. Others present included academics, lawmakers and former government officials from the two countries.

The so-called Track II talks are aimed at formulating policy recommendations for resolving the standoff between the two Koreas.

South Korean legislator Joo-Sun Park, also in attendance, told AP the civil atmosphere has allowed delegates from the three sides to feel comfortable being candid.

"The atmosphere on one hand is very serious, and on the other hand everyone is very respectful," he said.

Amid intense diplomatic wrangling, 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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