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North, South Korea Pledge to Work Towards Renewing Nuclear Talks - 2004-02-06

North and South Korea have wrapped up a three-day round of cabinet level talks in Seoul with a pledge to work jointly toward the success of the upcoming six-party talks on dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear programs. The rival nations also agreed to reopen high-level military communications.

North and South Korea ended their ministerial talks with a joint statement Friday, saying they will cooperate to bring about a "fruitful" round of multi-party nuclear talks.

They also agreed to re-establish high-level military contacts. They said their military leaders would meet soon to discuss ways of preventing further naval confrontations in disputed waters in the Yellow Sea, where deadly clashes occurred in 1999 and 2002.

Kim Ryong Song, North Korea's chief negotiator, addressed reporters in Seoul on Friday

He says North Korea will cooperate in the six-party talks in order to bring about progress.

The new round of nuclear talks opens in Beijing on February 25 and will involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia. The first meeting ended inconclusively last August.

Pyongyang, which announced only Tuesday that it would take part in the second round of talks, repeated an offer on Wednesday to freeze its nuclear programs in exchange for financial compensation from the United States.

But the Bush Administration again insisted that the North Koreans must verifiably and irreversibly halt their nuclear programs before Washington will talk about reciprocating.

At the inter-Korean talks, South Korea's chief delegate, Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, asked the North to abide by a 1991 bilateral pact in which the two nations pledged to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons.

The nuclear dispute was sparked in October of 2002, when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted that it was running a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of international accords.

The Korean ministers agreed to hold a new round of reunions of families divided since the Korean War in the 1950s. That reunion will take place in March at a resort on the North and will be the ninth such meeting.

The two nations, divided since the end of World War II, scheduled further cabinet level talks in Pyongyang from May 4 through May 7.

The North-South ministerial meetings are the highest level of contact between the two Koreas. The round that just ended was the 13th of its kind since the historic inter-Korean summit of 2000, when both nations agreed to a series of projects aimed at closer cooperation.