Talks bring a glimmer of hope to divided nation

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The Independent Online
The early signs, at least, were good. Talks between North and South Korea, divided since the Korean war, began yesterday with cautious indications from both sides that there might be progress in healing the division of the Korean peninsula.

Under a US-South Korean proposal, China and the United States would be the intermediaries in four-way negotiations on a security plan to replace the 1953 armistice that ended fighting in the 1950-1953 Korean War. The talks, which began in a hotel across the street from the United Nations, were scheduled for one day but could continue tomorrow, US officials said.

North Korea's vice-foreign minister, Kim Gye Gwan, recalled a Korean proverb that "the beginning means the work is half done." He added: "I think we will come out with some results."

A South Korean diplomat, Suh Ji-Won was optimistic, saying: "the fact that they [North Koreans] came to give a response is good. We came here to listen to what the North Korean delegates have to say." Asked what he expected from the talks, the South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister and delegation chief, Song Young Shik, crossed his fingers for luck.

Last month, US and South Korean representatives briefed the North Koreans in New York about the offer. North Korea asked for another round of discussions, saying it needed more time to study it. Privately, US officials said they were optimistic the North would accept the offer for negotiations to end formally the state of war which has existed since the armistice was signed.

Nicholas Burns, a US State Department spokesman, said the United States was anxious for the talks "to determine ways to promote stability - security stability - on the Korean peninsula". On the eve of yesterday's talks, the US announced it will ship $15m (pounds 9.25m) worth of corn to North Korea to assist children under six who are affected by severe food shortages. Mr Burns said the decision was not linked to a North Korean acceptance of the peace talks offer. But the North Koreans had indicated that they believe American help in overcoming the country's critical food shortage is a sign of good faith.

SEOUL (Reuter) - South Korea is preparing for the arrival of a defecting top Pyongyang ideologue. Security officials in Seoul said Hwang Jang-yop, now sheltering in the Philippines after fleeing through Peking, would arrive in Seoul soon.