Top aides to the leaders of North and South Korea met at the Panmunjom truce village straddling their border on Saturday, raising hopes for an end to a standoff that put the rivals on the brink of armed conflict.
The meetings are being held in the border village of Panmunjom, a location of considerable significance for both sides in the latest dispute.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency also reported the meeting, but it did not provide any further details.
South Korea is limiting the number of its citizens entering the joint industrial zone with the North, but the complex was still operating on Friday. It remains unclear whether the two sides can defuse the tension.
“The difficulty is that they can not even agree on the facts of the events which led to the current state of heightened tension”, wrote Steve Evans, BBC’s Korea correspondent.
Seoul had insisted it would not accede to Pyongyang’s demand to turn off the loudspeakers which have been blasting propaganda messages into North Korea for the past week.
Four US and four South Korean fighter jets have conducted simulated bombings, starting on South Korea’s eastern coast and moving toward the US base at Osan, near Seoul, officials said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared a “quasi-state of war” Friday and imposed a Saturday ultimatum demanding that his nemesis in the south stop blaring inflammatory propaganda through loudspeakers – or face punishing military action.
On Thursday, South Korea fired dozens of artillery rounds into North Korea after rockets were fired from the North Korean side in an apparent attack on the speakers.
The meeting, which began Saturday, was halted in the early morning hours of Sunday and will reconvene later in the day, a representative of the South Korean president told reporters.
The United States and South Korea have taken a “pre-scheduled pause” in an annual military exercise, a U.S. official said on Friday as tensions rose between the two Koreas.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, welcomed the decision to stay at the negotiating table, urging both Koreas to “redouble” their efforts.
South Korea (soldiers pictured) and North Korea agreed Saturday to hold their first high-level talks in almost a year.
Seoul said it would continue the broadcasts unless the North accepted responsibility for the blasts. Two South Korean soldiers were maimed August. 4 by land mines that the government in Seoul says were recently laid by North Korea. Analysts had expected this crisis eventually to wind down.
The two countries have technically been at war since their 1950s conflict, which never officially ended in a peace treaty.
“Chairman Dempsey reaffirmed the unwavering commitment of the United States to the defense of the ROK (South Korea) and reiterated the strength of the US-ROK alliance”, a Pentagon statement said.
In 2004, South Korea and North Korea reached an agreement to dismantle their propaganda loudspeakers at the border.