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Koreas Agree to Resume Cooperation Projects During Talks - 2002-08-13

Ministerial talks between North and South Korea ended Wednesday with plans to resume several cooperation projects. The two rivals say they will hold military talks as soon as possible.

The two nations wrapped up three days of cabinet level talks in Seoul on Wednesday with a statement detailing plans to resume contacts on a number of issues.

They will also hold talks on reconnecting a railway line across their heavily militarized border. Next month they will hold a fifth reunion of families divided by the border. In addition, Red Cross officials from both sides will discuss establishing a permanent meeting place for family reunions.

The two sides also said Wednesday they will re-start a number of projects aimed at helping the North's ailing economy.

Scott Snyder, an analyst with the Asia Foundation in Seoul, says the statement contrasts sharply with the recent tensions between South Korea and the communist Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Relations sank to a low point June 29, with a naval battle off the western coast of the Korean peninsula.

"Well if you consider this in the context of where we were at the end of June its a remarkable turnaround, because of course there was a West Sea military clash that occurred between the two navies," Mr. Snyder said. "The DPRK has taken some important steps from the end of July, including acknowledging that incident in order to put things back on track and create the space for diplomatic contact and dialogue."

The two governments also agreed to hold another round of talks in October. Seoul's key allies, Washington and Tokyo, will be closely watching to see if North Korea delivers on these agreements. In the past it has let similar pacts lapse.

Mr. Snyder said an increasing need for economic aid may motivate North Korea's push for better international relations.

"It's always difficult to know the precise motives of the DPRK leadership, because we really are talking about a situation where there is really not much information, its relatively opaque," he said. "One thing that we can say is that its clear that when the top leadership pays attention to these issues, there is an opportunity for sudden movement."

North Korea also has reached out to the United States and Japan recently. The North's state run media confirmed Wednesday that talks with Japan will be held next week. Pyongyang also says it would welcome a visit by a U.S. envoy. But on Tuesday it indicated it might walk out on a 1994 agreement with Washington to allow inspections of its weapons program in exchange for two nuclear power plants.