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Koreas Begin First Talks in Six Months - 2001-09-16


Talks aimed at ending half a century of bitter division on the Korean Peninsula are under way in Seoul. The ministerial-level talks broke off in anger six-months ago. Before the discussions, North Korea repeated a demand that U.S. troops leave South Korea, while the South says the North must fulfill promises to rebuild a railway between the two sides.

Five members from each of the two delegations walked into a hotel ballroom and took seats facing each other at a row of ornate desks. There were handshakes and smiles as reporters and television cameras looked on.

South Korean delegation leader Hong Soon-young said the two sides would "talk about everything" including "peace on the Korean Peninsula and preventing war."

Mr. Hong made it clear he would press North Korea to keep previous promises, saying let us start with a new mindset and carry out what has been agreed.

Those agreements include a commitment for North Korea to rebuild a railway and a road between the two sides, and make it easier to reunite families separated for decades by the Korean War.

North Korean delegation leader Kim Ryong-song said the two sides were working to implement agreements that grew out of the historic summit meeting between the leaders of both Koreas. He said the current talks brought the two Koreas from an era of confrontation to one of cooperation.

During the meeting, Mr. Kim agreed with the South Koreans on the need to meet many times and continue the talks.

On the eve of the formal talks, North Korea said Washington should pull its 37,000 troops out of South Korea. North Korea has made this demand several times in the past few weeks. A commentary carried by the North's official media accused the United States of being an obstacle to peace and trying to block reconciliation on the peninsula.

The United States and South Korea, staunch allies for decades, say the troop issue is something for the two allies to decide.

A 27-member North Korean delegation arrived Saturday in Seoul for the first North-South talks since Pyongyang broke off contacts in March, angry at perceived hostility from South Korea's key ally, the United States.

Washington put its relations with North Korea on hold earlier this year as the Bush administration reviewed the policies of the Clinton administration.

Since June the United States has said it is willing to hold talks with North Korea without preconditions at anytime, anyplace.

U.S. ally South Korea and communist North Korea remain technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armed truce, not a peace treaty.

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