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North, South Korea Agree to Talks - 2002-07-30

South Korea has accepted a North Korean offer to reopen negotiations on approving relations between the two nations. The development comes a day before the opening of a regional security meeting at which easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula is expected to be a key topic.

The South Korean Unification Ministry proposed on Tuesday that North and South Korea hold preliminary talks August 2-4.

Seoul suggested the North's scenic Diamond Mountain resort, on the east coast of the Korean Peninsula, as the setting. Cabinet-level talks would take place later, but a date has yet to be set.

Talks between the two rivals have been stalled since last November. The two nations have remained technically at war since 1953, when the Korean conflict ended without a peace treaty.

Choi Jinwook is a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification. He says both sides have compelling motives for reopening negotiations.

"South Korea wants to continue its sunshine policy for engagement and reconciliation between the two Koreas," he said. "From the North Korean perspective, they immediately need food from South Korea, and also South Korea is a major country which can support North Korea's economic recovery."

South Korea's Unification Ministry also noted Pyongyang's recent expression of regret over the June 29 naval battle that took place near the two nations' disputed maritime boundary in the Yellow Sea. Five South Koreans and an estimated 13 North Koreans were killed in that fighting.

In another sign of openness to talks, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on Monday told visiting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov that he wants to open talks with the United States and Japan without preconditions.

North Korea will have the chance to make contact with officials from the U.S., Japan and South Korea at the ASEAN regional forum in Brunei that opens Wednesday. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has indicated he would consider meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun at that gathering.

The key unresolved issues are Washington's concerns about North Korea's missile sales and nuclear weapons program and Pyongyang's demand for the withdrawal of 37,000 U.S. troops based in South Korea.

Tokyo wants Pyongyang to investigate claims that North Korean agents abducted Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s for spying. Pyongyang has previously denied those allegations.