Friday, June 03, 2011

South Korea acknowledges secret talks with North Korea

South Korea's government on Thursday admitted it held secret discussions with North Korea last month. And South Korean president Lee Myung-bak is facing criticism across the domestic political spectrum for the talks, which were revealed by Pyongyang.

On Wednesday, North Korea claimed three South Korean officials "begged" for a summit between leaders of the two countries and offered bribes at secret meetings in Beijing last month. 

Unification Minister Hyun In-taek on Thursday confirmed to lawmakers the clandestine encounter did occur. Hyun says there was no attempt by South Korea to arrange a leaders’ summit. Rather the secret talks were intended to press North Korea to apologize for last year's military provocations, which Seoul insists is a prelude to improving the chilly relationship.

Marcus Noland, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics and the East West Center in the United States, says, "Really the story is not that the South Koreans were talking to the North Koreas - just like the Chinese and Americans are - but rather that the North Koreans chose to publically embarrass him just like they had done to a previous delegation of international statesmen that tried to reach out and open up some doors."

Some western intelligence analysts say this signals a new, dangerous phase in inter-Korean relations. The analysts say the recent statements from the North could mean it is willing to take some sort of military action in response to any perceived provocations by the South. Noland, an economist who closely follows North Korea, agrees with that scenario.


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