N. Korea, U.N. officials to discuss S. Korean warship sinking
Monday, July 12, 2010; 10:00 AM
The meeting, proposed Friday by North Korea, raises hopes for reduced tensions on the Korean Peninsula, a flashpoint since the Cheonan sinking in March. The U.N. Command (UNC) said that colonels from both sides will meet for talks in Panmunjom, a village in the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea.
North Korea has denied any involvement in the Cheonan sinking, which killed 46 South Korean sailors and triggered an international investigation -- one that blamed a North Korean torpedo for the explosion.
But North Korea's behavior and its appetite for diplomatic engagement have shifted since late last week. Friday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned the Cheonan sinking, but its ambiguous statement merely implied Pyongyang's responsibility. That ability to avoid explicit blame -- largely the reflection of China's influence in Security Council talks -- led North Korea's U.N. envoy, Sin Son Ho, to call the statement a "great diplomatic victory."
The meeting signals the first conciliatory step by North Korea since the Cheonan incident and suggests that Kim Jong Il's government -- in a pattern that fits its history -- could again replace brinksmanship tactics with compliance. Even Pyongyang's willingness to discuss the matter with U.S. representatives represents a U-turn. North Korea had rejected an invitation to meet with the UNC in late June.
According to the command's statement, North Korea accepted a proposal "to hold colonel-level meetings in advance of General Officer Talks to discuss the sinking."
In June, North Korea rejected a UNC proposal to hold general-level talks, accused the United States of interfering in Korean issues and called instead for South Korea to allow North Korean officials to inspect the Cheonan investigation's methods and conclusion.
South Korea declined that proposal.
After the Security Council decision, North Korea, in a message carried by its state news agency, described its new proposal as a "manifestation of the unshakable will of the army and people of the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] to probe the truth behind the 'Cheonan' case in an objective, scientific and fair way. . . . If the U.S. forces side truly stands for a solution to the warship case and peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, it should seriously respond to this proposal carrying the good faith and magnanimity of the army of the DPRK."