Skip to main content

South Korea asks for trust; North agrees, lets families have reunions

By Paula Hancocks. Ben Brumfield and KJ Kwon, CNN
updated 8:24 PM EST, Fri February 14, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: U.N. leader urges countries to advance high-level engagement
  • Both sides will cut the harsh rhetoric, a South Korean official says
  • South Korea asked the North for trust in handling a poignant issue that divides them
  • The North agreed, and made a gesture of good will to back it up

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- In stark contrast to the bellicose gesturing that has haunted relations in the recent past, North and South Korea took conciliatory steps in each other's direction Friday.

Both sides will halt the harsh rhetoric, they agreed at a bilateral meeting on the heavily militarized border that divides them.

They hope that this and other agreements will serve to build trust between Pyongyang and Seoul, Kim Kyou-Hyun, a high South Korean security official, said after the meeting wrapped up.

Pyongyang has been particularly irked by joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States, and would like them to cease.

John Kerry sends warning to Pyongyang
Koreas meet for high-level talks
In Asia, talking with the enemy

The next ones are scheduled for later this month, and the North views them as a prelude to an invasion. Last year, Pyongyang's threatening rhetoric reached alarming levels during the exercises, heightening tensions in the region.

Last week, the North threatened that if February's maneuvers went forward, it would back out of planned visits between members of Korean families separated from one another since the civil war in the 1950s.

But, on Friday, they agreed to let them go forward.

The reunions of about 200 people -- 100 from each country -- are scheduled to take place between February 20 and 25 at a resort on the North's side of the border.

They coincide with the planned military exercises.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the countries to build on the momentum that will be generated by their agreement to hold family reunions.

"Tension between the two Koreas has been high and inter-Korean relations have remained strained for far too long. As such, this important development is a step in the right direction," Ban said in a statement Friday.

He encouraged both sides to continue high-level engagement and take further steps to build confidence and trust.

Trust us

So far, South Korea and the United States have rejected the North's calls for this year's joint drills to be called off.

In September, North Korea canceled a previous round of family reunions with only a few days' notice, accusing Seoul of souring ties between the two countries.

Officials from the North told the delegation from the South on Friday that it feels the military exercises and the humanitarian issue are connected, Kim said.

The South rejected that connection in principle but asked the North for its trust in working out tensions over the joint military exercises.

The North agreed to this. Both sides also decided to hold another meeting at a future date, Kim said.

The current talks at the Panmunjom Peace House came at the suggestion of the North and took place Wednesday and Friday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Seoul on Thursday, where he met with South Korea's President Park Geun-hye.

He reiterated Washington's stance that the United States will not accept a nuclear armed North Korea and criticized a lack of progress by Pyongyang on this issue.

Kerry visited Beijing on Friday, in part to talk with Chinese leaders about their influence over Pyongyang.

READ: Japanese ex-prime minister meets comfort women on S. Korea tour

READ: North Korea says it wants 'atmosphere of reconciliation and unity'

READ: Amanpour blog: Decoding two sets of surprising Asia peace talks

CNN's Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:17 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Sources tell Evan Perez that U.S. investigators have determined North Korea was in fact behind the Sony hacking.
updated 8:48 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Obama says people should "go to the movies" without fear, despite hackers' threats against venues that show "The Interview".
updated 7:35 PM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
CNN's Brian Todd reports on the hacking of Sony Pictures and whether North Korea could be behind it.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
As the U.S. gets ready to blame the Sony hack on North Korea, a troublesome question is emerging: Just what is North Korea capable of?
updated 8:57 PM EST, Mon December 8, 2014
A retired Silicon Valley executive and Korean War veteran was hauled off his plane at Pyongyang in 2013. Here's what happened next.
updated 5:57 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
A recent defector from North Korea tells of the harrowing escape into China via Chinese 'snakehead' gangs.
updated 7:39 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
CNN's Amara Walker speaks to a former North Korean prison guard about the abuses he witnessed and was forced to enact on prisoners.
updated 12:59 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
The chief of the Commission of Inquiry into North Korea's human rights says the world can no longer plead ignorance to the regime's offenses.
updated 7:34 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Kim Jong Il's former bodyguard tells of the beatings and starvation he endured while imprisoned in the country's most notorious prison camp.
updated 1:34 PM EST, Mon November 10, 2014
Christian Whiton argues "putting the United States at the same table as lawless thugs isn't just morally repugnant -- it's ineffective".
updated 1:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
Despite tense relations, China benefits from Kim Jong Un's rule in North Korea. David McKenzie explains.
updated 4:51 AM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
North Korea has "the world's most advantageous human rights system" and citizens have "priceless political integrity", the country declared.
updated 4:52 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Pro-wrestling, country clubs and theme parks are just some of the attractions North Korea wants you to see on a tightly controlled tour of the country.
ADVERTISEMENT