Archive for Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Koreans to reopen vital links

August 1, 2000


— North and South Korean negotiators approved a range of measures Monday to ease tensions on their divided peninsula, the world's last Cold War frontier.

After three days of talks in Seoul, representatives of the two sides agreed to reopen border liaison offices, reconnect a cross-border railway and meet again at the end of August in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

The genial mood of the negotiators, and the swiftness with which they reached a deal, contrasted with the often antagonistic tone of talks in previous years. This time, the envoys were building on the momentum provided by their leaders' historic summit in June.

Still, suspicions remain about Pyongyang's intentions as well as North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's reported proposal to scrap his regime's missile development plans in exchange for help from the West with its satellite program.

Monday in Tokyo, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori that "euphoria" over a series of diplomatic overtures by Pyongyang should be tempered with caution.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung has said reunification could take two or three decades and has warned his military to stay on alert in close cooperation with the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in his country.

"It is not easy to resolve problems that have stacked up over 55 years of national division. But the beginning is half done," presidential press secretary Park Joon-young quoted the president as telling the North Korean delegates after the Cabinet-level talks ended.

The negotiators also agreed to hold regular high-level talks to implement an accord on reconciliation and eventual reunification reached at the June 13-15 summit in Pyongyang between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong Il.

"The first step we've taken is very good," said chief North Korean delegate Jon Kum Jin. "We've demonstrated that if we muster our strength and wisdom, we can make a big achievement."

The next round of Cabinet-level talks will be held in the North's capital on Aug. 29-31, the joint statement from this weekend's talks said.

The statement had no mention of military and security issues, although South Korea had hoped to discuss opening a military hot line. Seoul officials said such issues would be discussed at the next rounds of talks.

The statement also had no mention of a proposed visit to Seoul by Kim Jong Il. But the North Korean chief delegate, Jon, said his leader "always keeps a promise he makes."

The two sides instead focused on economic and less sensitive issues, agreeing to reopen the liaison offices at the border village of Panmunjom on Aug. 15. The offices, which serve as a permanent channel of government dialogue, were shut down in 1996 because of political tension after a four-year run.

They also agreed to reconnect a rail line that links Seoul to Pyongyang, then continues on to Shinuiju, a major city on the North's border with China. That line has been cut since the 1945 division of the Korean peninsula.

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