U.N. Command attends talks with North Korea
SEOUL — For the first time in seven years, general officers from the United Nations Command and the North Korean army held official talks at Panmunjom on Monday, according to a U.N. Command news release.
U.N. Command spokesman Dave Palmer said North Korean requested the talks Saturday in hope of reducing tension on the peninsula.
In late January, citing the South’s "confrontational policies," the North scrapped long-standing military agreements between the two Koreas and said it would no longer recognize the Northern Limit Line, a maritime border in the Yellow Sea.
In response to the move, and to the North’s threat to test a mid-range missile, U.N. Command commander Gen. Walter Sharp called on Pyeongyang "to stop provocations and act like a responsible country" at a February luncheon with reporters in Seoul.
A Yonhap news story said the North has made accusations of U.N. Command provocations, including repeated trips by U.S. soldiers to places as close to 20 yards from the military demarcation line to take pictures of the North Korean military.
Palmer described the U.N. Command as optimistic about Monday’s talks.
"You can characterize any time they want to talk as a de-escalator of force and a reducer of tension," Palmer said. "As caretakers of the armistice they (the UNC) want to talk."
Air Force Maj. Gen. Johnny Weida headed the U.N. Command delegation while Maj. Gen. Kwak Chul Hui led representatives from the North Korean army.
According to a later U.N. Command press release, during the 32-minute meeting "both sides discussed measures to reduce tensions and introduce transparency."
Palmer was unable to provide more specific information about what was discussed and whether any agreements were made. But a Yonhap news story citing unnamed U.N. Command officials reported North Korea used the talks to rail against the upcoming Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercise.
Slated for March 9-20, Key Resolve/Foal Eagle features both field and computer-generated training for the South Korean and U.S. militaries. The North protests the defense-oriented exercises every year, claiming they are preparations for an attack.
According to The Associated Press, Yonhap quoted an unnamed South Korean military official as saying the North warned the upcoming drill would "further stir up" tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The report said the U.N. Command insisted that the exercise — involving 26,000 American troops, an unspecified number of South Korean soldiers and a U.S. aircraft carrier — is purely defensive and not preparation for an invasion as the North claims.
Palmer said the meeting, which took place on conference row — a string of small blue buildings situated on the border between the Koreas — would be the 15th set of general officer talks since the practice began in 1998.