Inter-Korean talks falter over North’s demands

SEOUL, South Korea, AP

A contentious round of rapprochement talks has stumbled over North Korea’s request for South Korea to provide electricity to help ease the isolated communist state’s severe power shortages.

Negotiators from both sides continued talking late Friday night to remove differences and announce a joint statement laying out the timetable of future inter-Korean projects aimed at nurturing reconciliation between the two Cold War adversaries.

The Cabinet-level talks in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, were the most contentious since the leaders of the two Koreas agreed to seek reconciliation at a June summit. It heightened concern that rapprochement with the communist North is losing momentum.

“If the inter-Korean relations go back to the state of confrontation, there will be no way to restore them,” said the North’s official foreign news outlet, KCNA, monitored in Seoul.

In the fourth and last day of the talks, North Korea requested that South Korea build power plants with a combined capacity of 2 million kilowatts, starting with a 500,000 kilowatt thermal plant, according to reports filed by South Korean journalists.

South Korean envoys insisted that the power issue should be raised at a separate, inter-Korean economic panel to be set up later, and that both sides first agree on how to accelerate reunions of separated families and other friendly gestures.

“North Korea explained the seriousness of its energy shortage and refused to discuss family reunions and other issues until South Korea promises to consider its request for electricity,” the reports said.

North Korea has already delayed a series of promised joint projects, including a third round of reunions of relatives who were separated during the 1950-53 Korean War.

South Korean Unification Minister Park Jae-kyu, accompanied by 27 aides and 10 reporters, flew to the North on Tuesday for the talks with his North Korean counterpart Chon Gum Jin.