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North and South Korea Will Resume Dialogue - 2001-09-06


North Korea has accepted a South Korean invitation to resume a bilateral dialogue that began last year, but which was abruptly halted in March.

North Korea has accepted South Korea's offer to hold ministerial-level talks on the two countries' stalled peace process. The four-day meeting is scheduled to be held in Seoul, starting September 15.

The North's response came within hours of a proposal from South Korea. Seoul's invitation, in turn, was a reaction to the communist North's sudden announcement on Sunday that it wanted to end a six-month freeze on contacts.

Analyst Robert Broadfoot, of the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, says the talks come at a crucial time for South Korean leader Kim Dae-jung. He is reshuffling his Cabinet following a no confidence vote against his minister on North Korea affairs, Lim Dong-won.

"I think there is not going to be any great progress. I think that the South is going through a period of domestic political problems," he says, "where the current government of President Kim Dae-jung is becoming more of a lame duck, and the momentum is swinging more to the group that opposes a rapid rapprochement with the North."

Mr. Broadfoot also notes that the North's surprise offer to resume contact came on the eve of a visit from Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who has pledged support for the development of North Korea's relations with South Korea, and the rest of the international community. "From the North's point of view, China twisted its arm [pressured it] a little bit," Mr. Broadfoot said. "And because this is a time when the South is a bit reticent, the North can be more aggressive."

The meeting will mark the fifth round of ministerial talks since the leaders of the two countries held a landmark summit in Pyongyang in June of last year. Contacts were abruptly suspended in March when Washington, Seoul's top ally, halted negotiations with the North. At that time, the new Bush administration said it was reviewing its stance toward North Korea.

North and South Korea have technically remained at war for more than a half century, since they did not sign a peace treaty at the end of their conflict in 1953.

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