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North Korean Envoys in South Korea - 2001-09-15

North Korean envoys are in South Korea's capital to resume reconciliation talks after a six-month break. Many issues are on the agenda in the four-days of ministerial talks, including South Korea's bid to get the two sides to condemn terrorism. That may happen, but it is a controversial issue in South Korea's factious politics.

At the airport, head of the North Korean delegation Kim Ryong-song said the recent terror attacks on New York and Washington were a great "tragedy" for the United States and a "shock" to the whole world.

His comments might signal the North's willingness to join South Korea in denouncing terrorism in a joint statement at the end of these talks.

But South Korea's politically powerful parliamentary opposition says North Korea has no business condemning terrorism until Pyongyang apologizes for its own acts, including the alleged bombing of an airliner and the deaths of senior South Korean officials.

The critical view was echoed on the editorial page of a major national newspaper and is an indication of the difficult political situation faced by the South Korean government of President Kim Dae-jung.

The southern delegation has a new leader because the previous minister in charge of relations with the North resigned, following opposition criticism that the policy of engagement with North Korea was costing too much and producing too little.

The talks formally begin Sunday in Seoul. They are also expected to cover unfulfilled North Korean promises to rebuild a rail line between the two sides, as well as efforts to stage reunions for families split for decades by the Korean War.

The North broke off contacts six-months ago in anger over what Pyongyang said was a tougher policy toward North Korea by the new Bush Administration.

Officials in Seoul hope the two sides revive agreements reached at a summit last year between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il that raised hopes for rapprochement on the divided peninsula

Korea was split into a communist north and western-oriented south after World War Two, and fought a bloody war in the early 1950's. Since that war ended without a peace treaty, the two sides are still technically at war. The border between North and South Korea is one of the most heavily fortified places on earth.