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North, South Korean Prime Ministers Meet to Expand Cooperation


The prime ministers of North and South Korea are trying to push forward what their presidents set in motion at last month's summit. On the opening day of talks in Seoul, the two leaders vowed to start implementing an agreement to boost already strong South Korean aid and investment in the impoverished North. VOA's Kurt Achin has more from Seoul.

South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo welcomed his North Korean counterpart Kim Yong Il to a Seoul hotel for the first of three days of planned meetings. The North's Kim said he thought the talks would "go very well."

It is the first time the two countries have met on the prime minister level in 15 years. The two Koreas remain technically at war 57 years after the North invaded the South, with fighting stopped by a 1953 armistice.

Prime ministers have mainly ceremonial duties in both North and South Korea. But this week's talks are considered an important first step in implementing last month's inter-Korean summit agreement. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il pledged to increase cooperation and efforts to establish a permanent peace on the Korean peninsula.

Briefing reporters on the first day of meetings, South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said North Korea came ready to talk about specifics.

Lee says North Korea's Kim came with "a clear determination on how to proceed" on several of the issues.

Experts say one of the North's top priorities will be to implement the summit agreement's promise to establish a joint maritime economic zone in disputed waters west of the Korean peninsula. The two Koreas have fought several deadly naval clashes in the area, where North Korea refuses to acknowledge a border declared by the United Nations in 1953.

Details on the zone are unlikely to emerge until North and South Korean defense ministers meet later this month.

The two Korean prime ministers are also discussing a potential upgrade of North Korea's dilapidated infrastructure, including roads, railways, and shipping facilities.

Experts say the projects could cost South Korea hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in public funds. Authorities in Seoul argue the money is well spent, because it will close the enormous gap in economic prosperity between North and South, making eventual unification easier.

This week's talks are unlikely to address North Korea's nuclear-weapons capabilities. Both Koreas are expected to join China, Russia, Japan, and the United States for another round of talks on the nuclear issue later this month or early next month.

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