Koreas agree to continue high-level talks to discuss thaw

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The Independent Online

North and South Korea took another step toward reconciliation Sunday, agreeing to hold regular high-level talks on bringing peace to their divided peninsula.

North and South Korea took another step toward reconciliation Sunday, agreeing to hold regular high-level talks on bringing peace to their divided peninsula.

Negotiators from both countries also came close to agreeing to reopen border liaison offices as part of efforts to implement an accord reached at a June summit of their leaders, a South Korean official said.

The progress was made at Cabinet-level talks which opened in Seoul on Sunday. The two sides planned to wrap up the talks on Monday by issuing a joint statement.

"The ministerial talks will keep continuing," said Kim Sun-kyu, a South Korean delegate.

"Both sides have found that their positions have many things in common but some working details need adjustment in their language before an announcement," said Kim, who serves as vice minister of culture and tourism.

If reopened, the border liaison offices would serve as a permanent channel of government dialogue. They were shut down in 1996 because of political tension after a four-year run.

After the first of two rounds of talks Sunday, chief North Korean delegate Jon Kum Jin was upbeat.

"I have a firm conviction that we can produce good results," he said in a luncheon speech.

The South Korean official, Kim, said both sides agreed to commemorate the June summit with a week of programs around Aug. 15, which marks Korean independence from Japanese colonialism in 1945.

Both Koreas usually mark the day with programs dedicated to unification. This year, they will exchange 100 people each for temporary family reunions, the first since 1985.

Negotiators did not say whether they discussed military and economic exchanges and cooperation, or a proposed visit to Seoul by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

The negotiators had vowed to uphold the spirit of the historic inter-Korean summit and make efforts to bring peace to the world's last Cold War frontier.

To avoid political friction, no flags or other national emblems were used for the talks.

The five-member North Korean delegation, accompanied by 13 assistants and seven journalists, flew to Seoul via Beijing on Saturday.

The Koreas have been bitter enemies since the division of their peninsula into the communist North and the pro-Western South in 1945. Their three-year war in the early 1950s ended without a peace treaty.

The last time a senior North Korean delegation visited Seoul was in 1992, when the prime ministers of the two sides visited each other's capital for reconciliation talks. Those negotiations were overshadowed by political tension.

This time, there are fresh hopes for peace following the June summit, during which leaders of the two sides agreed to work toward reconciliation and reunification.

The summit agreements call for wide-ranging economic and other exchanges. The Koreas already have stopped propaganda broadcasts directed at each other.

Despite the conciliatory mood, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung has said reunification could take two or three decades and has warned his military to stay on alert in close cooperation with the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed here.

The North's missile programs are a source of great concern in the region and are a major reason for Washington's decision to consider whether to build a national missile defense system.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright raised U.S. concerns at a meeting last week with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam during an Asian regional security forum in Bangkok, Thailand.

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