South Korea and North Korea agreed on Saturday to hold high-level talks at the border village of Panmunjom to defuse mounting tensions that have pushed the rivals to the brink of a possible military confrontation.
The meeting is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. Seoul time, 30 minutes after the deadline set by North Korea for the South to take down the loudspeakers broadcasting anti-North Korean propaganda at their border. North Korea has declared its frontline troops are in full war readiness and prepared to go to war if Seoul doesn’t back down.
South Korea’s national security director Kim Kwan-jin and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo will sit with Hwang Pyong So, the top political officer for the Korean People’s Army, according to the South Korean presidential office. Hwang is considered to be North Korea’s second most important official after supreme leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yang Gon, a secretary of the central committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and a senior official responsible for South Korea affairs.
The meeting comes as a series of incidents, starting with the North’s alleged land mine attack that maimed two South Korean soldiers and the South’s resumption of anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts, raised fears that the conflict could spiral out of control.
A South Korean Defense Ministry official, who didn’t want to be identified, said the South will continue with the anti-North Korean broadcasts until the end of North Korea’s deadline, but hasn’t made a decision whether to continue with them if the high-level meeting goes as planned.
In the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, businesses were open as usual and street stalls selling ice cream were crowded as residents took breaks under parasols from the summer sun. There was no visible signs of increased security measures, though the city is even under normal situations heavily secured and fortified. More than 240 South Koreans entered a jointly-run industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.
North Korea’s state-run media agency has strongly publicized its rhetoric, saying the whole nation is bracing for the possibility of an all-out war. Leader Kim Jong Un has been shown repeatedly on TV news broadcasts leading a strategy meeting with top military brass to review the North’s attack plan and young people are reportedly swarming recruitment centers to sign up to join the fight.
“We have exercised our self-restraint for decades,” the North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday. “Now, no one’s talk about self-restraint is helpful to putting the situation under control. 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.”
North Korean citizens voiced support for the government’s policies and their leader. They also used phrases like “puppet gangsters” to refer to South Korean authorities, according to The Associated Press.
“I think that the South Korean puppet gangsters should have the clear idea that thousands of our people and soldiers are totally confident in winning at any cost because we have our respected leader with us,” said Pyongyang citizen Choe Sin Ae.
It’s unclear whether North Korea means to attack immediately, if at all, but South Korea has vowed to continue the broadcasts, which it recently restarted after an 11 year stoppage after accusing Pyongyang of planting land mines that maimed two South Korean soldiers earlier this month.
Four U.S. F-16 fighter jets and four F-15k South Korean fighter jets simulated bombings, starting on South Korea’s eastern coast and moving toward the U.S. base at Osan, near Seoul, officials said.
South Korea’s military on Thursday fired dozens of artillery rounds across the border in response to what Seoul said were North Korean artillery strikes meant to back up a threat to attack the loudspeakers.
U.S. experts on North Korea said the land mine blast and this week’s shelling were the most serious security incidents at the border since Kim Jong Un came to power after the 2011 death of his father, Kim Jong Il. The country was founded by Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung.
“If Kim Jong Il or Kim Il Sung was in charge, I would say that leadership in North Korea would recognize that South Korea has responded in kind to an attack and it’s time to stand down. But I’m not sure Kim Jong Un understands the rules of the game established by his father and grandfather on how to ratchet up tensions and then ratchet them down. I’m not sure if he knows how to de-escalate,” said Evans Revere, a former senior State Department official on East Asia.
The latest standoff comes during annual military drills between the U.S. and South Korea, which North Korea calls preparation for an invasion. The U.S. and South Korea insist they are defensive in nature.
Hundreds of residents in South Korean border towns had evacuated to shelters during the conflict on Thursday before returning home on Friday afternoon. Fishermen on Saturday were banned for the second straight day from entering waters near five South Korean islands near the disputed western sea border with North Korea, according to marine police officials in Incheon.
Yonhap news agency, citing a government source, reported Friday that South Korean and U.S. surveillance assets detected the movement of vehicles carrying short-range Scud and medium-range Rodong missiles in a possible preparation for launches. South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it couldn’t confirm the report.
The Koreas’ mine-strewn Demilitarized Zone is a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula still technically in a state of war. About 28,500 U.S. soldiers are deployed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.
Source: Fox News