UPDATE : 2018.9.20 THU 12:21
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Koreas agree to hold military dialogue, family reunion talks this month

The two Koreas agreed Friday to hold general-level military talks on June 14 at the truce village of Panmunjom as part of efforts to ease tensions between the two countries.

They also agreed to hold a Red Cross meeting on June 22 at the North's Mount Kumgang resort to discuss holding a reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

The agreements were made during high-level talks held at the border truce village to discuss steps to implement agreements reached during a April 27 summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

"South and North Korea agreed to take substantive steps to advance inter-Korean relations in a proactive and significant manner and to usher in a new era for reconciliation, peace and prosperity," they said in a joint press statement.

This photo, taken by the Joint Press Corps on June 1, 2018, shows South Korea's chief delegate Cho Myoung-gyon (L) and his North Korean counterpart Ri Son-gwon exchange a joint press statement issued after their hourslong high-level talks held at the truce village of Panmunjom. (Yonhap)

The two sides also agreed to open a liaison office in the North's border town of Kaesong at an early date. They will have working-level contacts for that matter.

To arrange meaningful events to celebrate the anniversary of their first-ever summit held on June 15, 2000, they promised to keep holding discussions through exchanges of documents. Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, who led South Korea's delegation, however, told reporters later that an official event for the anniversary will not likely be held due in part to time restraints, though he said that a final decision has not been made.

The two also agreed to hold talks on June 18 to discuss sports cooperation, including fielding a joint team to the upcoming Asian Games.

They pledged to have further discussion on possible reconnection of railways and roads between the two countries, cooperation in the forestry area and a decision on the date for working-level talks to prepare for performances planned by the North's art troupe in the South this fall.

They did not set the date for their next round of high-level talks, saying that the schedule will be determined in consideration of other working-level discussions.

Friday's talks were the third high-level meeting between the two Koreas since January, when Kim extended an olive branch after years of provocations expressing intent to join the February Winter Olympics.

Cho led South Korea's five-member delegation, which included Vice Transport Minister Kim Jeong-ryeol and Vice Culture Minister Roh Tae-kang.

The North's five-member team was headed by Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country. It also included Vice Railroad Minister Kim Yun-hyok and Vice Sports Minister Won Kil-u.

Those decisions are in line with the so-called Panmunjom Declaration adopted by their leaders after the April summit, in which their agreed to halt all hostile acts against each other and vowed various cooperation efforts.

With the back-to-back talks to be held this month, it is expected that cross-border exchanges will likely speed up after their growing peaceful mood once faced a setback due to the North's recent cancellation of inter-Korean talks originally scheduled for last month.

The high-level talks were originally scheduled for May 16, but the North called them off at the last minute, taking issue with joint military drills between South Korea and the United States.

The unilateral cancellation threw cold water over growing peace mood following the summit in April, which was the first of its kind between South Korean President Moon and North Korean leader Kim.

The two Koreas previously held summits in 2000 and 2007.

In their second summit last week and the fourth ever in history, two leaders agreed to hold high-level talks this week and agreed to work together to make a North Korea-U.S. summit happen.

This photo, taken by the Joint Press Corps on June 1, 2018, shows South Korea's chief delegate Cho Myoung-gyon (L) shaking hands with his North Korean counterpart Ri Son-gwon during high-level talks held at the truce village of Panmunjom. (Yonhap)

At the beginning of the talks, the two Koreas emphasized the importance of mutual trust and respect before starting the talks.

"Looking back on the inter-Korean relationship, it can be compared to a cart that runs toward peace, prosperity and unification," North Korea's chief delegate Ri said at the start of the talks. "We can think of North and South Korea as the wheels that move the cart forward."

Ri blamed South Korea for the cancellation of the meeting scheduled for last month, while providing no specific reasons.

He, however, called it a "thing of the past," saying that mutual "trust and respect" is the driving force behind the inter-Korean relations.

Cho did not directly respond to the accusation but agreed that trust of and respect for each other is important.

"I believe that there is no problem that we cannot solve together if we deal with it based on trust, respect and understanding of the other side, which is the basic mindset that South and North Korea both agree to," the South's chief delegate said.

The two Koreas technically remain in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The talks between South and North Korea came amid a flurry of diplomacy under way to prepare for a potential summit between the North and the U.S., which will likely take place in Singapore on June 12 to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has reaffirmed his commitment to denuclearization in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Pyongyang on Thursday and expressed hope for a "stage-by-stage" resolution of the nuclear standoff, according to the North's state media Friday.

Cho told reporters that the denuclearization issue was not brought up for discussion during the high-level talks but both sides shared a view that successful holding of a North Korea-U.S. summit could be conducive to the advancement of inter-Korean relations.

The two sides discussed the release of six South Korean citizens detained in the North, the minister said, adding that the North said that the relevent agencies are reviewing the matter. He added the issue of joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S. was not mentioned during the talks. (Yonhap)

Lee Sam-sun  edt@koreapost.com

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