Officials From North and South Korea Meet to Arrange Talks

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SEOUL, South Korea -- Delegations from North and South Korea met on their heavily armed border on Sunday to try to arrange their first cabinet minister-level talks in six years following months of tensions marked by a North Korean nuclear test, international sanctions and threats of war.

The meeting at the "truce village" of Panmunjom -- so named because the 1953 armistice ending the three-year Korean War was signed there -- was the most concrete sign that the two Koreas were easing tensions and moving toward a thaw after years of recriminations.

Before leaving for the border, Chun Hae-sung, the chief South Korean delegate, reiterated that the North and South could move toward greater economic cooperation and political reconciliation when they "start building trust on small things first." North Korea made a surprise overture proposing government-to-government dialogue with the South on Friday. South Korea quickly accepted, offering to hold cabinet minister-level talks in Seoul on Wednesday.

Mr. Chun told reporters on Sunday that talks on the border with a North Korean delegation, led by Kim Sung-hye, a senior official at the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, will focus on sorting out "administrative and technical issues" related to the proposed cabinet minister-level talks.

In its proposal for dialogue, North Korea said it was ready to discuss reopening a joint industrial park, cross-border tours and Red Cross programs that arrange reunions of families separated by the Korean War. These projects, introduced during a period of inter-Korean rapprochement between 1998 and 2008, have been suspended in recent years as relations deteriorated.

Cross-border tours were canceled in 2008 after North Korean soldiers shot and killed a South Korean tourist and the North then rejected South Korean demands for a joint investigation and measures to prevent similar episodes. The two Koreas held their last reunion of separated families in 2010.

The joint industrial zone in Kaesong, a North Korean border town, had been the last symbol of cooperation until the North suddenly pulled out its 53,000 workers, blaming military tensions, and left South Korean factory owners at a loss to meet orders.

When minister-level talks are convened, the most contentious question will be the conditions imposed on any of the suspended projects before they can be reopened. President Park Geun-hye of South Korea has repeatedly said her government is determined to end a "vicious cycle" in which the South appeases the North after its provocations. And her aides have said that the South would not revive the projects "as if nothing had happened" and that the North must take steps to ensure that it would not sacrifice economic projects for political ends.

They have also said that South Korean efforts to engage the North would be limited until the stalemate is broken over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

It is rare for government officials from the two Koreas to meet in Panmunjom. They last did so in 2000 to help arrange the logistics of the historic inter-Korean summit meeting that year. North Korea has repeatedly tried hard to undermine the Korean War armistice, calling instead for a peace treaty with the United States. Under that strategy, it has usually shunned Panmunjom, a symbol of the armistice, as a place for government dialogue, except for military talks.

The two Koreas held their last cabinet minister-level talks in 2007, although military officials from both sides met in February 2011 in a failed attempt to ease tensions.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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