North and South Korea try words instead of saber-rattling

Posted Aug 22, 2015 by Nathan Salant
High-level talks are underway between North and South Korea as the longtime enemies try to avert a military confrontation amid rising hostility between them.
Military guard posts of South Korea (bottom) and North Korea (top) stand opposite each other as seen...
Military guard posts of South Korea (bottom) and North Korea (top) stand opposite each other as seen from the border city of Paju on August 21, 2015
Jung Yeon-Je, AFP
Diplomats from the two countries resumed meeting Sunday (Korea time) after taking a break from talks that continued all day and night Saturday.
The meetings involving South Korea's national security director, Kim Kwan-jin, and unification minister Hong Yong-pyo, and North Korea's Hwang Pyong So of the army and Kim Yang Gon, who handles cross-border affairs, are the first high-level contacts between the countries in nearly a year, according to the Associated Press.
Relations between the countries have deteriorated in recent weeks leading up to annual war games between South Korea and the United States.
The U.S. has 30,000 troops permanently based in South Korea.
After landmine explosions seriously injured two South Korean soldiers at the beginning of August, the U.S. restarted propaganda broadcasts from loudspeakers placed near the border and North Korea threatened military escalation if the propaganda continued.
"South Korea has openly vowed to cut off the vicious cycle of North Korean provocations, so it can't manage to walk off with a weak settlement," said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul.
"The South will also likely demand the North to take responsibility for the land mine attack and apologize, and there isn't much reason to think that Pyongyang would accept that," Koh said.
But North Korea, which denied responsibility for the mine, said it was ready to go to all-out war if the situation continued to deteriorate.
"We have exercised our self-restraint for decades," the North's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday.
"The army and people of the DPRK are poised not just to counteract or make any retaliation, but not to rule out all-out war to protect the social system, their own choice, at the risk of their lives," the statement said.
The two sides fired artillery shells at each other Thursday and Friday, the AP said, forcing thousands of South Korea border town residents to move into bomb shelters.
South Korean fishermen were barred from entering disputed waters near the North Korean border, the AP said.
The meetings are being held in the border village of Panmunjom, a location of considerable significance for both sides in the latest dispute.
Panmunjom is where the ceasefire that ended the Korean War was signed in 1953.
North Korea's formal name is Democratic People's Republic of Korea.