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North, South Korea to Resume High-Level Talks


South Korea's top official on policy relating to North Korea has arrived in Pyongyang to resume senior-level talks, which had been frozen for seven months. This week's meetings are expected to focus on restarting joint projects put on hold after North Korea's missile and nuclear tests. VOA's Kurt Achin has more from Seoul.

South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung boarded a flight to the North Korean capital Tuesday.

He vows to "restore the framework of North-South dialogue" at this week's ministerial talks.

The last time North and South Korea held minister-level talks was seven months ago, and things did not go well.

North Korea had just test fired several missiles. Far from explaining or apologizing for the launches, as South Korean officials had hoped, Pyongyang's delegates defended the launches as part of its "military first" policy.

South Korea responded by suspending shipments of emergency food and fertilizer to the impoverished North. An angry Pyongyang then cut off inter-Korean talks and suspended reunions of North and South Korean families separated for decades by the heavily defended border between the two countries.

In October, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test. However, at six-nation talks this month in Beijing, Pyongyang promised South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States it would take the first steps toward ending its nuclear weapons programs.

Unification Minister Lee says it is important that the renewed North-South talks happen while the six-nation negotiations are in progress.

He says his most important priority in Pyongyang will be ensuring the two Koreas coordinate to rapidly implement the agreement.

The centerpiece of the deal is Pyongyang's pledge to disable its main nuclear reactor within 60 days, in exchange for oil shipments. A second, more ambitious phase of the agreement requires North Korea to declare and disable all of its nuclear facilities.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on Tuesday said he believed the deal was part of an inevitable move by North Korea toward more reform and openness.

He says North Korea developed nuclear weapons because it feels threatened by those who believe it will never open up or reform. He says the weapons were meant to counter such threats while talks take place.

Mr. Roh says settlement of the nuclear issue and normalization of inter-Korean relations go hand in hand, but says it is too early to schedule a North-South summit.

In addition to discussing the six-party agreement, the talks in Pyongyang this week are expected to focus on restarting South Korean aid shipments, as well as re-establishing military contacts and renewing plans for North-South railroad connections.

North Korea's top nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye Kwan, is on the way to the United States to meet in New York with the U.S. negotiator, Christopher Hill. They will discuss ways to implement this month's agreement.

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