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Koreas Family Reunion Talks Overshadowed by Nuclear Issue - 2003-01-21

Red Cross officials from the two Koreas are meeting against the backdrop of the crisis over North Korea's nuclear development program. The two sides are supposed to discuss arrangements for another round of family reunions as part of a rocky reconciliation agreement.

Red Cross officials from the two Koreas, meeting in the North's Diamond Mountain resort, were scheduled to discuss reuniting divided families, but the agenda has been overshadowed by the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Seoul said it will use these talks and two other inter-Korean meetings this week to press Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programs.

In addition to the Red Cross meeting, ministers are holding a working meeting in Seoul, and officials are talking in Pyongyang about a project to connect the two Koreas by rail.

On the first full day of the Red Cross meeting Tuesday, the South Korean delegation did propose holding the next set of family reunions in at the end of February, to mark the new lunar year. The two sides are also tackling how to set up a permanent venue to hold the future reunions.

Up to a million aging Koreans have not been able to see or contact family across the heavily armed border in more than 50 years.

The next reunions would be the sixth round of family gatherings since a historic summit between the leaders of the two Koreas in 2000. That summit sparked a spate of reconciliation projects between the former Cold War enemies.

But since then, relations have been jolted by North Korea's suspected development of nuclear weapons.

Last October, the United States reported that Pyongyang had admitted to a secret nuclear weapons program, in violation of international agreements. Then last month, the communist state withdrew from the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty, sparking international alarm and condemnation.

Since then, there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity in a bid to persuade the reclusive nation to give up its nuclear ambitions.