North and South Korea have agreed in a rare high-level meeting to stop insulting each other and to go ahead with planned reunions of Korean War-divided families next week.
A joint statement released on Friday by the South Korean government and North Korea’s state media announced that Seoul agreed to Pyongyang’s proposal that the sides stop vilifying each other, which North Korea has demanded over the past weeks in protest of South Korean media reports critical of its leader, Kim Jong-un.
“The North and the South agreed to refrain from slandering each other in order to promote mutual understanding and trust,” the statement by North Korean’s state media read. Both countries also agreed to “continue discussing issues of mutual concern”.
The statement comes after senior officials from both Koreas met for the second time this week in a border village of the Korean peninsula.
Seoul says that what the North labels as slander, such as a recent reporting of Kim’s failure to take off his shoes during a visit to an orphanage, comes from its media and not its government. South Korea’s lead negotiator pointed out that his government could not put a stop to such media coverage.
“It’s still ambiguous how they can stop mutual insults, but the fact that South Korea agreed to it is meaningful,” said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University. He said top South Korean officials are expected to stop making comments that could provoke North Korea.
Reunions on schedule
For weeks, North Korea has also maintained that scheduled family meetings between the two countries, the first in three years, could not take place at the same time as annual United States-South Korean military exercises – slated to begin during next week’s reunion event.
A previous meeting on Wednesday – the countries’ highest-level talks in years – achieved little progress because of North Korea’s demand that the South delay the drills’ start until the reunions end, according to South Korean officials.
Pyongyang calls the exercises a rehearsal for invasion, while Seoul and the US say they are defensive in nature.
Both countries’ negotiators, however, made concessions to achieve the agreements.
Chief South Korean delegate Kim Kyou-hyun told reporters in Seoul that North Korea withdrew its insistence that the reunions be delayed because of the drills.
“The first step towards trust building is the reunions of the separated families, so we persuaded [the North] that we should trust each other and hold the event as scheduled, and the North Korean side agreed with us,” said Kim Kyou-hyun.
Several thousand Koreans were displaced and separated during the 1950-53 Korean War, and since then many across the border have lost contact with each other.