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Inter-Korean Talks Open in Pyongyang

North and South Korea have opened their 12th round of ministerial talks in three years. The talks are again being overshadowed the North Korean nuclear dispute. South Korea says it hopes to press Pyongyang back into multilateral talks on dismantling its nuclear weapons program.

A South Korean delegation, led by Unification Minister Chong Se-hyon, is in Pyongyang for four days of cabinet-level meetings.

It is the 12th round since the historic summit between the two Koreas in 2000 and the fourth time both sides have met since the dispute over North Korean nuclear development erupted one year ago.

As Unification Minister Chong left for Pyongyang on a special chartered flight Tuesday, he told reporters that maintaining a stable Korean Peninsula is important so that people do not feel insecure. He also said that improved bilateral ties will help international efforts to end the nuclear standoff.

He plans to push the North to commit to another round of six-nation negotiations on the issue.

The two Koreas, along with the United States, China, Russia and Japan held talks in Beijing in August, but they ended only with an agreement to meet again.

Since then, North Korea has issued contradictory statements about whether it will join another round of talks. It has also raised tensions with recent claims that it has reprocessed spent fuel for use in nuclear bombs.

The nuclear crisis began a year ago, when U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted it had a secret program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons - violating international accords.

Tim Savage, a visiting fellow at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University, notes that while the South wants to use the meeting to ease regional tensions, the impoverished North is expected to ask for more aid from its wealthy neighbor.

"I think the North Koreans see these direct North-South ministerial talks more as a way to try to get aid and cooperation from South Korea directly," he said. "But the very fact of having this kind of contact opens the door at least for the South Koreans to try to persuade North Korea to play the good cop to America's bad cop and trying to get the North Koreans back to the negotiation table."

South Korea did say Tuesday it will give $27 million worth, or about 100,000 tons of fertilizer to the North.

The two Koreas - which have been divided for more than a half-century - will also address a number of joint reconciliation projects. They include the reconnection of cross-border railways and roads and the building of an industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong.

They are also expected to discuss the construction of a permanent center for reunions between families separated by the division of the peninsula. The Korean War ended in 1953 with a truce, but no peace treaty.