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First Day of Korea Talks End on Positive Note


North and South Korea have ended their first day of cabinet-level talks on reconciliation on a positive note. The meeting began later than scheduled, but ended with optimistic comments from both sides.

The North Korean delegation arrived in Seoul Monday sounding a positive note about the first high-level contact in nine months. Delegation chief Kim Ryong Song told reporters he hopes both sides will come to the table with a cooperative spirit.

However, talks were immediately delayed due to a disagreement over the timetable for the three-day meeting. The two sides did eventually meet for about an hour.

Both delegations described the meeting as positive, but short on details.

Officials say they will concentrate on implementing the June 2000 Summit accord, rather than new initiatives.

The accord calls for reuniting families, divided by the Korean War, military and economic cooperation and reconnecting rail and road links, severed for more than 50 years.

Those projects have been stalled since last year. Contact was cut in November, after North Korea objected to the South's heightened security measures, in response to terrorist attacks in the United States. A period of heightened tension on the Korean peninsula peaked in late June, when naval vessels from both sides clashed near a disputed marine border. Pyongyang in July expressed regret for the skirmish, paving the way for these first high-level talks.

In recent weeks, North Korea has reached out to Seoul and its key allies, Washington and Tokyo. The inter-Korean talks this week are part of this broader pattern.

The dialogue is being closely watched by Japan, which will send Red Cross officials to Pyongyang next week for their first meeting in more than a year. Washington will also be monitoring progress, as it decides whether to send a high-level government envoy to the North.

Washington's dialogue with the Stalinist state has been virtually frozen since President Bush took office last year. Washington classifies North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" - countries developing weapons of mass destruction.