Seoul Acknowledges Secret Beijing Meeting With North Korea

Posted June 2nd, 2011 at 3:50 am (UTC-5)
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South Korea has acknowledged its officials attended a secret meeting with North Korean officials in Beijing, but challenged details in Pyongyang's account of the meeting.

Unification Minister Hyun In-taek was questioned about the meeting in parliament Thursday, a day after the North's official KCNA news agency provided an account of last month's meeting.

KCNA said Wednesday that the South had “begged” the North to participate in a series of three summit meetings over the next 10 months. But Hyun said the real purpose of the meeting was to secure an apology from Pyongyang for two military attacks that killed a total of 50 people last year.

South Korea has insisted for months that North Korea must apologize for the attacks before steps can be taken to ease tensions between the two countries.

Pyongyang has refused, saying it had no role in the sinking of the Cheonan, a navy ship that was torpedoed in March 2010 killing 46 sailors. North Korea says the South provoked an artillery attack on a border island in November that killed four people.

In the KCNA article Wednesday, North Korean officials said the South's delegates in Beijing had suggested that Pyongyang issue a vague statement that could be interpreted as an apology by the South but not by the North. Hyun did not directly comment on that claim Thursday.

Analysts saw the North's statement as a deliberate attempt to embarrass the government of President Lee Myung-bak, effectively closing the door on the prospect of improved relations with his administration.