Sunday, August 23, 2015

North Korea Deploys Submarines as Talks With Seoul Resume
About 70% of Pyongyang’s submarines are away from their bases, South Korean defense ministry says

Aug. 23, 2015 4:10 a.m. ET

SEOUL—Senior officials from the two Koreas restarted talks Sunday afternoon aimed at ending a military standoff after they failed to reach a breakthrough in 10 hours of discussions that wrapped up earlier in the day, a South Korean spokeswoman said.

In a sign that North Korea continues to use the threat of attack to try to boost its leverage in the meeting, South Korea’s defense ministry said around 70% of Pyongyang’s submarines were away from their bases on Sunday in an unusually large deployment.

North Korea has also doubled its artillery strength near the border since Friday, a South Korean defense ministry spokesman said.

Close advisers to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Park Geun-hye resumed talks at their border outpost of Panmunjom around 3.30 pm South Korean time on Sunday, a spokeswoman for the South Korean presidential office said.

The two sides adjourned their first sessions of negotiations at 4.15 am with no indications they had narrowed their differences.

The two Koreas are trying to find a way to prevent an escalation of a military clash after North Korea fired shells over the border on Aug. 20. South Korea responded with multiple rounds of artillery fire. Pyongyang has threatened further attacks and Seoul has vowed strong retaliation.

Both sides are keeping their militaries on alert as the talks continue.

On Saturday, South Korea and the U.S. flew fighter jets close to the border in a simulated bombing run, a tactic to warn North Korea against any military action. The allies are also currently staging their annual summer military drills in South Korea to ensure readiness for any North Korean invasion.

North Korea’s large deployment of submarines helps to apply psychological pressure in the talks, said Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea expert at the International Crisis Group in Seoul. “And if you need to use them, it’s much better for them to be at sea where they are more difficult to detect,” he said.

North Korea has around 70 Romeo-class submarines based on 1950s-era Soviet technology, according to South Korea’s latest intelligence.

South Korea’s main representative is National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-jin, while North Korea’s lead negotiator is Hwang Pyong So, vice chairman of the country’s top military body, the National Defense Commission. Mr. Hwang is a close aide of the North Korean leader.

High-level talks between the two Koreas over the years often turned into marathon sessions and produced few clear agreements. Compromises have been rare. In 2013, one round of talks broke down into a physical scuffle.

The latest tensions between the Koreas began earlier this month when two South Korean soldiers were maimed by land mines on the southern side of the rival nations’ heavily armed border. A United Nations military investigation found North Korea responsible for planting the mines; Pyongyang denied responsibility.

In response to the incident, South Korea began broadcasts from 11 loudspeaker systems along its border into North Korea, resuming a tactic previously used over a decade ago that is designed to demoralize soldiers on the other side. The loudspeakers broadcast criticism of Pyongyang’s regime, as well as messages about democracy and even pop music.

The speaker systems are each turned on for around 10 hours a day. North Korea strongly objects to the broadcasts because they are a breach of the information blockade it tries to maintain to prevent its people wanting to challenge its dictatorship.

After the initial exchange of fire on Aug. 20, which caused no casualties, North Korea had threatened to attack the loudspeakers unless Seoul turned them off by 5 p.m. on Saturday. South Korea refused and warned of strong retaliation to any attack.

North Korea has ramped up aggressive rhetoric in its state media and declared a “semi-war state,” a move that experts see as an effort to rally its people behind its leader, Mr. Kim.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the two sides to de-escalate tensions, according to a statement issued by his spokesman.

Mr. Ban “calls on the parties to redouble efforts to resolve differences through dialogue, while refraining from taking any measure that is not conducive to dialogue,” the statement said.

Write to Alastair Gale at

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