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North, S. Korea Transportation Talks Delayed - 2002-08-29

Talks between North and South Korea about reconnecting rail and road links across the demilitarized zone are delayed. Negotiators are ironing out details in Seoul so the talks can resume.

Formal talks on reconnecting rail and road links across the Korean peninsula were postponed on Thursday. The two sides began the talks Wednesday as a follow up to ministerial level discussions held earlier in the month.

It is not yet clear if the talks have hit a snag but a South Korean spokesman says the two sides will resume official meetings when the delegates fine tune their differences.

Formal inter-Korean talks have often been rescheduled in the past, to allow unofficial negotiations behind closed doors.

Professor Park Young-Ho is a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification. He thinks one major sticking point could be initiating military talks. Military officials on both sides must be involved in building the rail link because it crosses the heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone dividing the two countries. "If North Korea agrees to give South Korea any concrete schedule regarding the resumption of military working level talks, I am cautiously optimistic," he said.

He adds that other disagreements could have arisen over the amount of economic aid South Korea will give North Korea.

The two Koreas, divided since 1945, first discussed cross-border links during a landmark summit in 2000. Dialogue was stalled when relations cooled between the two sides in 2001. South Korea has completed construction on a western railroad link leading to the north, but North Korea has yet to begin construction on its side.

The current meeting coincides with increased efforts for cultural and sports exchanges between the two Koreas.

In contrast to the talks between North and South Korea on Thursday, a senior U.S. arms negotiator was in Seoul and had harsh words about the North. U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said in a speech that North Korea has programs to develop weapons of mass destruction and called the North's government an "evil regime." However, he also said the United States stands ready to talk with Pyongyang.