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Japan, S. Korea, US Meet on North Korea - 2002-09-06

Officials from South Korea, Japan and the United States began two days of talks in Seoul Friday to coordinate their policies toward North Korea. The discussions get under way as Pyongyang appears increasingly keen to develop links with the outside world. The growing ties include the first meeting between Red Cross chiefs from the two Koreas.

This is the first time that officials from the three countries have been able to meet and discuss Pyongyang's revived interest in improving relations with the outside world. The United States and South Korea will be keen to hear about the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to the North in a few weeks. It will be the first visit by a Japanese prime minister.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung Friday told reporters he has great hopes for Mr. Koizumi's visit. He says he thinks it could bring a breakthrough in Tokyo's strained relations with Pyongyang.

Seoul is expected to outline the results of its talks with Pyongyang last month. Those talks ended with a pledge to reconnect severed transport links between the two Koreas.

A spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry says South Korean officials will meet separately with the U.S. and Japanese delegations. On Saturday, there will be a joint session of all three delegations.

North Korea withdrew from most of its contacts with the world last year, after President Bush decided to review the U.S. policy toward Pyongyang. The isolation deepened early this year when Mr. Bush labeled the North part of an "axis of evil" and accused it of developing nuclear, chemical and other weapons of mass destruction. It is only in recent months that Pyongyang has demonstrated a renewed interest in pursuing outside ties.

Also Friday, the head of the South Korean Red Cross left for talks with his North Korean counterpart at the mountain resort of Mount Kumkang in the North. The two sides are expected to discuss setting up a permanent meeting place for families separated by the border dividing the peninsula. Before his departure, Suh Young-Hoon said that more people from the North and South needed to meet more often at a fixed meeting place.

One likely venue for reunions is the mountain resort where the talks are taking place, but the South also wants an additional meeting place just south of the border.