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Two Koreas Prepare for Working-level Talks

FILE - South Korean tourists visit Mount Kumgang in North Korea, June 15, 2004; the tour program, a rare source of hard currency for cash-strapped North Korea, has been suspended since 2008.

South and North Korea on Tuesday exchanged lists of delegations that will attend working-level talks this week.

Seoul's Unification Ministry said Kim Ki-woong, head of the ministry’s special office for inter-Korean dialogue, would lead the South’s three-member delegation.

The North Korean delegation will be led by Hwang Chol, a senior official at the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, the North Korean body that handles inter-Korean affairs.

The two Koreas will meet Thursday on the North Korean side of the border village of Panmunjom to discuss the details of government-to-government talks. The resumption of talks was a key part of the August 25 agreement that reduced military tensions over North Korea’s alleged land mine attacks on South Korean soldiers.

Seoul has offered to resume the talks multiple times since the inter-Korean deal was reached, and Pyongyang accepted the offer last week.

Analysts in Seoul said the two sides could engage in tough negotiations over the agenda and participants in future government-to-government talks.

Seoul is expected to push for an expansion of reunions of families separated by the Korean War six decades ago. Last month, the two sides held the reunions for the first time in more than a year, but it is unclear whether North Korea will agree to make them a regular event.

Tour program

Instead, Pyongyang appears to be interested in resuming an inter-Korean tour program that has been suspended since 2008. The program, a rare source of hard currency for cash-strapped North Korea, allowed South Koreans to visit the North's famous Mount Kumgang resort.

Seoul suspended the program after the shooting death of a tourist by a North Korean guard. Since then, South Korea has repeatedly rejected North Korean demands that it resume the tours, citing existing sanctions against Pyongyang.

South Korea imposed economic sanctions against North Korea in retaliation for the 2010 sinking one of its navy ships. The sanctions, known as the May 24 measure, ban nearly all economic cooperation and people-to-people exchanges between the two sides except the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Who will lead each side’s delegation is another issue Seoul and Pyongyang may disagree on. Seoul wants the talks to be held at the ministerial level, but Pyongyang might not be ready for such high-level sessions, according to some analysts.

In 2013, the two sides failed to hold government-to-government talks because of disagreement about the level of participants in the talks.

The last round of ministerial level talks between the two Koreas was held in 2007.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.