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North, S. Korea Prepare for High-Level Talks

  • VOA News

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, center, arrives to preside over a security meeting to discuss the upcoming South and North Korea talks at the presidential house in Seoul, South Korea, June 10, 2013.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, center, arrives to preside over a security meeting to discuss the upcoming South and North Korea talks at the presidential house in Seoul, South Korea, June 10, 2013.

North and South Korea are making final preparations for two days of rare, high-level government negotiations that begin Wednesday in Seoul.

It is still unclear what representatives the countries will send to the talks, which figure to be the most significant between the two Koreas in years.

The North has backed down from an earlier agreement that would refer to the talks as "ministerial-level." Both sides now say they will send other senior-level government officials who are yet to be identified. The two foes have not held ministerial-level talks since 2007.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said Tuesday she hopes the talks produce long-lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.

"On the occasion of the talks, I hope [the two Koreas] will take a first step towards permanent peace and building trust," she said. "I also hope the South and the North will produce results that the people want through sufficient cooperation on hard-to-handle issues."

Officially, the two sides have identified a relatively narrow agenda for the talks.

This includes the resumption of two stalled joint commercial projects: the Kaesong industrial zone, which was closed amid heightened military tensions in April, and the North's Mount Kumgang resort area. Officials say the reunion of separated Korean families will also be on the agenda.

Analysts say it is unlikely the discussions will touch on Pyongyang's nuclear program. Pyongyang has insisted that it will not give up the program, while the United States says abandoning the program is crucial to restoring the North's ties with the international community.

The U.S. State Department on Monday welcomed the agreement to hold the talks. Spokesperson Jen Psaki said Washington has always supported improved inter-Korean relations. But she cautioned the U.S. will not resume direct talks with Pyongyang unless it commits to taking steps toward denuclearization.
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