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North, South Korea Close to Restarting Peace Process

North and South Korea appear close to agreement on restarting a series of exchanges that could revive their stalled peace process. A statement is reportedly being drafted in Pyongyang where South Korean presidential envoy Lim Dong-won is wrapping up a three day diplomatic mission.

South Korean officials said the breakthrough came in a meeting late Thursday night between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and the South's envoy Lim Dong-won.

The two Koreas are close to agreeing on resuming several types of contacts, including reunions of families separated by more than 50 years of division on the peninsula and opening economic cooperation talks.

The two countries had agreed to these projects during a summit nearly two years ago. But North Korea backed away from them due to tensions between Pyongyang and Washington, the South's key ally.

This is the first time the two sides have met since November. The meetings started off poorly, with North Korean state media blasting Seoul and Washington for trying to create war on the Korean Peninsula and demanding that the U.S. withdraw its 37,000 troops from the South. But the talks wrapped up on a better note both sides said Mr. Lim's discussions with Mr. Kim had gone smoothly.

Lee Chung-min is a professor of international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul. He said that the trip followed a typical pattern for North Korea, with Pyongyang taking a hardline stance initially and then becoming more open to negotiating.

"I think the key object of meeting from the North Korea side was to insure that Kim Jung Il comes off with a really good public relations image at home and obviously abroad. In the whole drama of South-North Korea relations, North Korea always has the upper hand because they are able to control the agenda and who gets to see what," Mr. Lee said.

Mr. Lee has said all eyes now will be on relations between North Korea and the United States. Pyongyang has signaled this week that it might be willing reopen contacts with Washington.

The North said Wednesday that it would restart a dialogue with The Korean Energy Development Organization, or KEDO, a U.S. led international consortium building two modern nuclear power plants in the North. The project is part of the 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea vowed to stop its suspected nuclear weapons program and the U.S. pledged to build the plants and provide the North with fuel oil until they are completed.

Washington has said it would like to broaden the scope of meetings to include priority security issues. President Bush has labeled North Korea part of an "axis of evil" intent on developing weapons of mass destruction.