Korean generals discuss easing decades-long military standoff

North and South Korean officials met for rare high-level military talks, which concluded with no agreement. Experts say it is unclear what progress can be made in the near future because easing tensions must include North Korea's denuclearization. 

North Korean Lt. Gen. An Ik-san (l.) walks with South Korean Maj. Gen. Kim Do-gyun (r.) at the Peace House of the border village of Panmunjom on July 31, 2018.

Generals from the rival Koreas met Tuesday at their shared border for talks on easing their countries' decades-long military standoff, the second such meeting since their leaders held a landmark summit in April and pledged to reduce the danger of another war on the peninsula.

The meeting comes days after North Korea returned the reported remains of US war dead, the most recent sign of positive diplomacy after last year's threats of war.

The Korean generals met at the border village of Panmunjom and discussed the implementation of agreements from the inter-Korean summit on non-nuclear military issues. Some experts say South Korea can't agree on any drastic measures to reduce animosity unless the North takes serious steps toward nuclear disarmament.

In the April 27 summit, the leaders of the Koreas agreed to disarm a jointly controlled area at Panmunjom, work to prevent accidental clashes along their disputed western sea boundary and halt all hostile acts. Since then, the Koreas have dismantled their frontline propaganda loudspeakers, restored a military hotline, and held their first general-level talks since 2007.

The generals were expected to discuss a reduction in the number of military guards at Panmunjom, the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the area, and the removal of some guard posts from the Demilitarized Zone, a buffer zone that separates the two countries. They could also talk about ways to ensure that fishermen operate peacefully along the Korean sea boundary, the site of several bloody naval skirmishes in recent years.

The Defense Ministry wouldn't discuss any detailed agenda for the talks.

The meeting began in an amicable manner with delegates from both countries saying they expect a meaningful outcome.

Chief North Korean delegate Lt. Gen. An Ik-san said he felt a "sense of mission" to contribute to peace and prosperity for the Koreas. His South Korean counterpart, Maj. Gen. Kim Do-gyun, said he was confident the talks would produce "achievements that South and North Korea and the international community want," according to South Korean media pool reports from the venue.

Last Friday, North Korea returned what were said to be dozens of remains of American soldiers missing from the 1950-53 Korean War, something leader Kim Jong-un promised during a June summit with President Trump.

Mr. Trump thanked Mr. Kim for "fulfilling a promise" to send back US remains and said it was a step in the right direction following their summit.

During the Singapore meeting, Kim also committed to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula while Trump promised to provide security assurances. But there have been worries that North Korea hasn't taken any serious disarmament measures since then.

In exchange for returning the US war dead, North Korea may demand that the United States agree on a declaration to end the Korean War as a US security guarantee. That could be discussed at Tuesday's meeting, according to analyst Cho Han-bum at Seoul's Korea Institute for National Unification.

The Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula in a technical state of war. North Korea has long argued its nuclear weapons are a response to US military threats, saying it wants to sign a peace treaty with the US to formally end the war. That could then allow the North to demand the pullout of 28,500 US troops deployed in South Korea.

Mr. An, the North Korean delegate, mentioned a South Korean media report that North Korea would ask South Korea to pressure the US to jointly declare the war's end. "Before determining whether that [report] is accurate, I realize that the entire people in North and South Korea think highly of our meeting," he said.

The military talks are part of a number of recent steps toward reconciliation by the Koreas that began with North Korea's participation in February's Winter Olympics in South Korea. The Koreas are to field combined teams in basketball, rowing, and canoeing during the upcoming Asian Games in Indonesia. On Tuesday, North and South Korean athletes trained together in rowing and canoeing in southern South Korea.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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