SEOUL – South Korea on Wednesday proposed holding a meeting Feb. 11 with North Korea to plan for high-level military talks in what would be the first official discussions between the two nations since the North shelled Yeonpyeong Island two months ago, according to the Ministry of Defense.

North Korea had not responded to the proposal by Wednesday afternoon, a ministry spokesman said.

Seoul proposed holding the meeting on South Korean soil in the Demilitarized Zone. The spokesman said if North Korea agrees to the meeting, officials will discuss the time, date and agenda for higher-level military meetings to be held in the future. North Korea’s Nov. 23 bombardment of Yeonpyeong and the March sinking of a South Korean warship are expected to be discussed during the high-level talks.

North Korea’s defense chief proposed the high-level defense talks in a letter to South Korea’s defense minister last week to ease tensions over the two incidents, according to North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency. But a South Korean Defense Ministry official said South Korea would not agree to ministerial-level talks unless North Korea takes responsible measures for the incidents.

North Korea fired on the northwest island in what it claims was a response to a South Korean military drill targeting the North. The attack killed four people, including two civilians.

A South Korean-led international investigation, which included analysts from the U.S., Australia, the United Kingdom and Sweden, found that a North Korean submarine came into South Korean waters on March 26 and fired a torpedo, splitting the Cheonan in half and killing 46 sailors. North Korea has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack.

And while North Korea is unlikely to accept responsibility for the sinking of the warship, the proposal to hold preliminary talks is a “breakthrough” and a significant step toward easing tensions on the peninsula, said Paik Hak-soon of the Sejong Institute.

Both governments recognize the need for talks, and North Korea might make some concessions or apologies for the Yeonpyeong shelling in hopes of continuing talks with a South Korean government facing widespread anti-North Korean sentiment at home.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg met with Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan in Seoul. Steinberg told reporters that the two nations “shared determination to deal with the challenge of North Korea in a way that protects the interest of South Korea, the United States and all the countries of this region,” The Associated Press reported.

If the talks are held in Panmunjom, the U.N. Command would handle the crossing of the DMZ, UNC spokesman David Oten said. Otherwise, neither U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Walter Sharp nor the U.S. military would have any involvement in the meeting.

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Yoo Kyong Chang is a reporter/translator covering the U.S. military from Camp Humphreys, South Korea. She graduated from Korea University and also studied at the University of Akron in Ohio.

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