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North, South Korea to Restart Cabinet Level Talks - 2002-08-04

North and South Korea will restart Cabinet-level contacts later this month, after a 10 month hiatus. The breakthrough came during informal talks at a North Korean mountain resort.

In a joint statement released after three days of negotiations at the remote Diamond Mountain resort, North and South Korea say they will restart their long-stalled reunification dialogue on August 12 in the South Korean capital, Seoul.

More reunions for families separated by the Korean War and the rebuilding of an inter-Korean railroad top the agenda for the upcoming talks. The two sides will also discuss joint economic projects, which the impoverished North desperately needs. North Korea also agreed to take part in the Asian Games, which South Korea hosts in the port city of Pusan from September 29.

The agreement follows Pyongyang's statement of regret for a deadly naval clash in June in the Yellow Sea, in which at least four South Koreans and an unknown number of North Korean sailors died. South Korean news reports say North Korea reaffirmed its regrets over the incident, but stopped short of an official apology. Each side blames the other for starting the naval battle, and North Korean state media reports call for the disputed sea boundary to be redrawn.

North and South Korea have remained technically at war since 1953, when the Korean conflict ended without a formal peace treaty, and they are now divided by the world's most heavily defended border region. The two countries had a summit meeting two years ago, but tensions have increased since President Bush took office in 2001 and said he would rethink U.S. attitudes toward the isolated communist state. Washington is Seoul's key ally, and 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea to protect it, in case of an attack by the North.

Sunday's agreement to restart talks could help North Korea improve its relations with the United States and Japan. Political analysts say North Korea needs better ties with the outside world as it embarks on a series of policy changes designed to revive its faltering economy.