US top diplomat John Kerry visits Seoul amid Korea tensions

US Secretary of State John Kerry waves upon his arrival at a military airport in Seongnam, south of Seoul, 13 February 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption John Kerry is visiting South Korea, China and Indonesia on his Asian tour

US Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting Seoul, a day after the two Koreas held their highest-level talks in six years.

Mr Kerry landed in South Korea on the first leg of an Asian tour that will also take in Beijing and Jakarta.

He was expected to meet President Park Geun-hye and be briefed on the inter-Korean talks.

The Koreas made little progress during Wednesday's talks, but they are scheduled to meet again on Friday.

The Unification Ministry in Seoul said a second meeting would be held at the border village of Panmunjom at North Korea's request, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

The delegates are expected to discuss family reunions, which bring together relatives divided by the partitioning of the Korean peninsula in 1953.

A Unification Ministry official quoted by Yonhap said that at Wednesday's talks North Korea asked Seoul to delay joint military exercises with the US set for later this month.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Delegates from the two Koreas met in the truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday

Seoul had rejected the request, the official said, adding that forthcoming family reunions should not be linked to the drills.

"We proposed that South and North Korea build confidence by implementing the family reunions," the official said

'Humanitarian objective'

The family reunions will be the first since 2010. They are due to begin on 20 February, four days before the annual US-South Korea joint military exercises begin.

North Korea describes these exercises as preparations for war and has issued multiple calls for them to be cancelled.

On Thursday, South Korea said plans for the drills had been in place for months and the exercises would go ahead.

"It is wrong to relate the defensive nature of [a] military drill [which is] for national security to the separated family reunion which has a humanitarian objective," said Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok.

Last year's drills, which followed North Korea's third nuclear test on 12 February, were followed by a prolonged period of tension and extreme rhetoric from North Korea, including threats of attacks.

Mr Kerry will spend a day in Seoul before flying to Beijing on Friday morning.

As well as North Korea, he is also expected to raise the issue of South Korea-Japan ties. Rows over historical and territorial issues have left relations between America's two main allies in the region strained.

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