Washington Wants Coordination With Seoul on NK Issues
A train leaves Munsan Station for North Korea in a rehearsal of test run on Wednesday, a day before the historic cross-border train test run takes place. / Yonhap
By Lee Jin-woo
U.S. Ambassador to Korea Alexander Vershbow stressed close coordination between Seoul and Washington on inter-Korean reconciliation Wednesday, one day before South and North Korean trains are to cross the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) for the first time in more than half a century since the 1950-53 Korean War.
His remark is widely interpreted here as meaning that the United States wants Seoul not to speed up the inter-Korean reconciliation before the six-party talks make progress.
``We think that there is agreement that if we're going to achieve our goals both in inter-Korean reconciliation and the six-party talks, it is essential that the U.S. and South Korea work together and coordinate our efforts to the maximum degree possible,'' the envoy told reporters following his meeting with Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung at Lee's office in Seoul.
During the meeting, Lee said, ``The test runs will be the start of regular rail services between the two Koreas. I hope it will be the first step toward establishing a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula,'' according to his aides.
The two trains, carrying 100 South Koreans and 50 North Koreans, respectively, on both east and west sides of the Korean Peninsula, are to cross the DMZ bisecting the two Koreas between 12:10 and 12:20 p.m., the Ministry of Unification said Wednesday.
On the western side, the five-car train departs from Munsan Station in the South for Kaesong Station in the North on a 27.3-kilometer track at 11:30 p.m., while the other train on the east coast leaves Geumgangsan Station in the North for the South's Jejin Station on a 25.5-kilometer track.
Participants from the two Koreas will hold a ceremony to mark the historic event at both departing stations, the ministry said.
Seoul has disclosed its intention to use the restored railways to help North Korean workers commute to the inter-Korean Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea as well as to transport South Korean tourists to the North's scenic Mt. Geumgang.
The test run, however, has stirred much controversy over the list of 100 South Korean passengers that included several close aides to President Roh Moo-hyun, but excluded those who have uneasy relations with the president for no proper reason. Opposition parties have denounced the Roh government for politically exploiting the event.
For instance, former Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, who served his Cabinet post between July
2004 and December 2005, and Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo, who have made contributions to the restoration of dilapidated railways in the province, were excluded from the list.
Actor Myung Kye-nam, however, who played an important role during the 2002 presidential election, received a ticket.
The Gyeongui Line cutting across the western section of the border was severed on June 12, 1951, while the Donghae Line crossing the eastern side was cut shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War. A set of parallel roads has been in use since 2005 for South Koreans traveling to the North.
South and North Korea completed radio tests between Dorasan Station in the South and Panmun Station in the North and between the South's Jejin Station and the North's Gamho Station. The stations are the closest ones to the border on both sides.
In May 2006, North Korea abruptly called off the scheduled test runs just a day before its scheduled date, apparently under pressure from its hard-line military.