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North, South Korea to Hold High-Level Talks - 2003-01-09

North Korea has says it will hold high-level talks with South Korea this month, but a week later than offered. At the same time, the North has not yet acknowledged a U.S. offer to discuss the Pyongyang's illegal nuclear programs. Pyongyang told Seoul Thursday that it wants to push back bilateral cabinet-level discussions to January 21, one week after dates proposed by the South.

South Korea's Unification Ministry says the North gave no reason for the request. The meeting will be the ninth of its kind since the two countries held a summit in June 2000 and agreed on a series of projects related to peace on the Korean Peninsula. They have remained technically at war since a 1953 armistice. The upcoming round of talks is expected to focus on defusing the dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons development.

Pyongyang shocked the world in December when it moved to reactivate the Yongbyon nuclear power facility, capable of producing plutonium for nuclear bombs. Last week, it expelled monitors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog. The act prompted a series of international diplomatic meetings - the latest this week in Washington with officials from South Korea and Japan.

After the talks, the United States altered its position and offered to have a dialogue with North Korea. Previously, the Bush Administration had refused to engage the North until it abandoned its nuclear programs. However, the White House stresses it will not offer inducements to Pyongyang to give up the programs and comply with the international non-proliferation agreements.

North Korea has yet to respond to the U.S. overture - and instead accused the United States of pushing the Korean Peninsula toward nuclear war. It was the latest in a string of almost daily criticisms by the official Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea has been demanding a non-aggression pact with the United States in order to talk about the nuclear issue.

Meanwhile, Red Cross officials from North and South Korea have agreed to resume negotiations on holding more reunions for families split by the Korean War. The working-level talks will take place at a North Korean resort from January 20 to 22.

Five such reunions have taken place since the summit two-and-a-half years ago. More recently the two sides agreed to set up a permanent center for family reunions in the North, but have not hammered out specific details.

The family reunions are one of a number of inter-Korean projects that continue to move forward despite the nuclear crisis. Other projects underway include the joint development of an industrial park in the North where some South Korean factories will have operations and employ North Korean workers.