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Koreas Agree To Talks But Can't Decide What Kind Or Where

Tents at the Korean armistice conference in June 1951. Pyongyang stalled the talks by arguing over such minutiae as the height of chair legs.

The two Koreas have agreed in principle to talks aimed at mending their almost nonexistent relations, but they are stalled on the question of where to meet.

South Korea has suggested that high-level talks take place in its capital, Seoul, but North Korea has countered that only lower-level negotiations should take place and they should be held in its border city of Kaesong.

The rival Koreas have not met face to face for such negotiations since February 2011.

Pyongyang on Friday says that's because "relations have been stalemated for years and mistrust has reached the extremity."

South Korea has not yet responded to the counterproposal, which could be a stalling tactic reminiscent of the summer of 1951, when North Korea held up talks for weeks arguing over such minutiae as the height of chair legs at the negotiating table. (More than a quarter-century later, Hanoi argued similarly over the shape of the table in an apparent effort to stall talks on ending the Vietnam War).

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that North Korea on Friday reopened a Red Cross hotline with the South that was cut in March amid rising tensions on the peninsula this spring. Another hotline linking the two countries' militaries remains cut off.

Some experts say North Korea is partly responding to pressure from China to tone down its rhetoric. As Reuters notes:

"North Korea's moves come ahead of a summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday in California. North Korea's actions, including its latest nuclear test in February and threats to attack South Korea and the United States, are likely to be high on the agenda. ...

"China told a North Korean delegation that visited Beijing late last month that North Korea should stop conducting nuclear tests and focus on economic development, a source with knowledge of the talks told Reuters."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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