North Korea holds "unprecedented" talks with South Korea.

North Korea Holds “Completely Unprecedented” Talks with South Korea

North Korea Holds “Completely Unprecedented” Talks with South Korea

The Slatest
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Oct. 4 2014 1:53 PM

North Korea Holds “Completely Unprecedented” Talks with South Korea

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South Korean unification minister Ryoo Kihl-Jae (R) shakes hands with Hwang Pyong-So (L), vice chairman of North Korea's National Defense Commission, in Incheon, South Korea

Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Amid rumors about the health of dictator Kim Jong Un, North Korea surprised everyone by sending a high-level delegation to South Korea for talks that will reportedly launch a new round of reconciliation negotiations by next month. How significant was this delegation? Reuters says that the North Korea officials, including the presumptive No. 2 in Pyongyang, amounted to the country’s “most senior delegation ever to its estranged neighbor.” At the very least, it marks the highest-level talks held between the two countries, which are still technically at war, in five years. What is clear is that everything happened very quickly. The North Korean delegation arrived with only 24 hours notice.

“It’s a big deal, it's really a big deal, because it’s completely unprecedented,” Andrei Lankov, a North Korea scholar, tells the Washington Post. Although there were no big announcements after the face-to-face conversations, the visit itself was significant, particularly considering it comes after year in which the divided neighbors have lobbed lots of insults back and forth. The Post points out that it’s seen as particularly significant that Pyongyang agreed “to call the talks ‘talks’” rather than choosing a euphemism.

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The delegation traveled to South Korea for the closing of the Asian Games, but excuses aside, the visit is seen as particularly significant considering that Kim was last seen in public on Sept. 3. And while his long absence is unusual in itself, it was particularly strange that state media acknowledged he was not doing well, and was suffering from an “uncomfortable physical condition,” leading to a flurry of rumors about his health, reports the Guardian.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.