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Two Koreas Seek Renewed Contacts


North and South Korea have expressed eagerness to resume inter-Korean projects, including massive transfers of food and cash from the South to the impoverished North. However, negotiators at these first Korean talks in seven months are treading lightly in the shadow of last month's promise by Pyongyang to start abandoning nuclear weapons. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin has more.

Thursday's talks in Pyongyang began with North Korea hosting a special breakfast for South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung, who is marking his 63rd birthday. The South Korean delegation later paid a courtesy call on North Korea's second highest official, Kim Yong Nam.

Envoys are cultivating all the good will they can to put inter-Korean relations back on track after seven months of silence. However, Unification Minister Lee reportedly described the talks Thursday as "very difficult."

South Korean officials say the North has proposed the resumption of "humanitarian projects" at this week's talks. Experts say that is essentially code for the resumption of massive shipments of badly needed South Korean aid.

But South Korean reports from Pyongyang say with just a day to go before Friday's scheduled end to the talks, food and fertilizer are not mentioned in a draft joint statement.

More than a month remains before the deadline of North Korea's first promise under the Beijing agreement: to disable its main nuclear reactor by April 13. Nam Sung-wook, a North Korean specialist at Seoul's Korea University, says South Korea is likely to link specific aid commitments to that deadline.

Nam says North Korea has "dodged" the nuclear issue in previous North-South talks, insisting it is a matter between Pyongyang and the United States. He says South Korea will probably insist on seeing concrete progress on ending the North's nuclear weapons before actually scheduling any food shipments.

Experts such as Nam say that the February agreement in Beijing will be the yardstick for progress on future North-South relations.

North Korea cut off most inter-Korean contacts in July, when South Korea suspended emergency food and fertilizer shipments to the impoverished North.

The South Korean move was a response to the North's July test-launch of a series of ballistic missiles. The aid embargo - and diplomatic freeze - persisted after the North tested a nuclear explosive in October.

Pyongyang opened the door to resuming dialogue last month in Beijing, when it promised China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States it would begin disabling its nuclear weapons programs.

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