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Archive for Thursday, August 15, 2002

Koreas agree on range of projects

August 15, 2002

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— The two Koreas agreed Wednesday to have family reunions and resume negotiations on a range of projects aimed at building reconciliation, but the communist North fell short of giving a firm commitment to crucial military dialogue.

The reconciliation process on the divided peninsula would blossom in the next two months, said South Korean officials who reached a 10-point agreement with North Korea in their first high-level dialogue in nine months.

Both sides agreed to have soccer and taekwondo matches, reunite aging people separated by the Korean War, hold talks to build factories in North Korea, and reconnect a rail line across the Demilitarized Zone, the world's most heavily armed border.

They failed, however, to set a date for military dialogue crucial to enacting some of those projects and reducing tensions between the two Koreas, which engaged in a deadly naval clash less than two months ago.

In its version of Wednesday's agreement, which came after a seven-hour delay, South Korea said both sides agreed to have military talks at an early date.

But North Korea's version of the statement, carried by its official Korean Central News Agency, said the two sides "shall recommend" that their militaries engage in dialogue at an early date. The North's military, the fifth largest in the world, forms the backbone of the communist regime and is considered hard-line.

Analysts speculated that the use of the word "recommend" indicated that the North Korean government delegates did not have the power to decide on military issues.

"We expect that today's agreement will give momentum to reconciliation and cooperation on the Korean peninsula," said Rhee Bong-jo, a South Korean government spokesman.

Rhee said the deal will help resume dialogue between North Korea and the United States, a key South Korean ally. North Korea has said it would accept a U.S. envoy.

Also Wednesday, Japan and North Korea announced that they will have high-level talks on normalizing diplomatic relations Aug. 25-26 in Pyongyang.

North Korea's three-day talk with South Korea was seen as a litmus test for crucial talks with Washington, which wants to discuss the issues of curbing the North's missile development and exports, its suspected nuclear weapons program and its massive deployment of conventional arms near the border with the South.

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