By AsiaToday reporter Heo Go-woon
Seoul and Pyongyang are set to hold the inter-Korean talks at the Peace House in Panmunjeom on the South Korean side of the border on Tuesday. The South Korean delegation, headed by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, is expected to focus on discussing the North's participation in the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics and seek ways to improve the inter-Korean relations.
"The talks will begin with a full session at 10 a.m.," said Baik Tae-hyun, the unification ministry spokesperson, in a regular briefing on Monday. He said the time was set together with the North earlier. Detailed schedules after the full session will be crafted between the two sides through consultations.
"The upcoming dialogue will first focus on the North's participation in the PyeongChang Olympics and Paralympic Games," Baik said.
The first inter-Korean talks under the Moon Jae-in administration are likely to cover the scale of the North's participation, the visiting path of the athletes, and the joint opening ceremony. The North may announce plans to dispatch its cheerleaders and artists along with the athletes.
South Korea's five-member delegation headed by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon will include two deputy ministers, including Unification Deputy Minister Chun Hae-sung and Sports Second Deputy Minister Roh Tae-kang. Mirroring the South's side, North Korea will send a five-member delegation led by Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country. Other North Korean delegates will include Jon Jong-su, Vice Chairman of the CPRC; Won Kil-u, Vice Minister of Physical Culture and Sports; and more.
As the inter-Korean delegations include many senior-level officials, the talks could lead to overall discussions for the restoration of inter-Korean relations. "While discussing how to improve inter-Korean relations, the two sides may discuss ways to reunite divided families and ease military tensions, so we prepared for these as well," Cho told a group of reporters.
"We expect that discussions will likely to focus on the mutual interests of improving inter-Korean relations, particularly something that carries urgency, like Seoul's July proposal," Baik said. The South Korean government proposed in July to hold military talks on easing border tensions, and a Red Cross meeting to discuss reunions of divided families. North Korea has not responded to Seoul's proposal.
North Korea may repeatedly insist on halting the South Korea-US joining drill and stopping the development of US strategic assets. In addition, the North may refer to the issues of resuming tourism to Mount Kumgang and resuming the Kaesong Industrial Complex, but the South Korean government is unlikely to accept such offer unless there is progress in the North Korean nuclear issue.
"As North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed his hope that the PyeongChang Winter Olympics would be a success, the upcoming talks are likely to be held under low pressure," said Moon Sung-mook, the head of the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy's unification strategy center who attended more than 50 occasions in the military talks between Seoul and Pyongyang in the 2000s, said in a telephone interview with AsiaToday.
"It's advisable to focus on the PyeongChang Olympics first, and to discuss other issues with each other at meetings to be held later," he added.