The Two-Way
9:45 am
Tue June 11, 2013

South Korea Says Talks With The North Are Off

Delicate preparations for talks between North and South Korea collapsed like a souffle Tuesday, after both sides objected over who was going to show up to do the talking.

The working negotiating teams exchanged proposed delegate lists Tuesday in advance of formal talks Wednesday in the South's capital city of Seoul. Officials from North Korea "immediately complained about what they believed was the low level of the chief South Korean negotiator and later called off the meeting," reports South Korean news agency Yonhap.

The North Korean official news agency had said earlier this week that its own team would be comprised of officials at the "minister-level."

South Korea had intended to send its minister for unification and expected the North to respond with a similarly placed diplomat from within the ruling Workers' Party. Instead, Seoul claims Pyongyang tried to send a lower-level director from an agency that works on cross-border affairs, Yonhap says.

South Korea then selected its own lower-ranking official to lead its delegation, but this didn't sit well with negotiators from North Korea, which abruptly pulled out of the talks.

South Korea also was miffed. A government spokesman says the North's choice of a lower-ranking chief delegate was "abnormal" and unfit to represent North Korean officials. "Our government regrets North Korea's position," the South Korean spokesman said, according to Reuters.

The kerfuffle seems minor, but not as silly as when North Korea delayed talks in 1951 over the height of chair legs, as Scott wrote last week. But as he noted Sunday, several issues were up for discussion, including restarting the closed joint industrial zone used by both countries, and reuniting families separated by the Korean War.

As The Associated Press notes:

There had been hope that the talks on reviving two high-profile economic cooperation projects would allow the countries to move past a relationship marred by recent North Korean threats of nuclear war and South Korean vows of counterstrikes. But the collapse over what's essentially a protocol matter is testament to the difficulty the countries have in finding common ground.

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