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Koreas move closer to meeting table

Kin Dae-jung
South Korean leader Kim Dae-jung has come under fire for making unilateral concessions to North Korea  

SEOUL, South Korea -- In an apparent bid to break the deadlock between the two countries, South Korea is moving to accept a venue proposed by North Korea for the stalled inter-Korean ministerial talks, an official in Seoul said on Tuesday.

The two Korea's originally agreed in September to hold the talks from October 28 to 31 in North Korea's Pyongyang capital.

But the event was indefinitely postponed after North Korea abruptly insisted to change the venue to its Mount Kumkang resort, for reasons that remain unclear to Seoul.

A Unification Ministry official told Reuters News Agency that the Kumkang venue lacked heating and would require considerable work to ready the resort for proposed ministerial talks.

Nonetheless, a South Korean official also told Reuters news agency that Unification Minister Hong Soon-young was likely to send a message later this week to North Korea, accepting talks at the remote mountain resort.

At a glance: South Korea

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The Communist North derailed plans to hold a series of exchanges this month and called off mutual visits of families divided since the 1950-53 Korean War, saying South Korea's anti-terrorism security alert had made such visits unsafe.

Last month, the U.S. State Department had warned that U.S. military installations in South Korea and Japan could be terrorism targets, even before the September 11 suicide attacks in New York and Washington. That warning remains in force.

But Seoul, host to 37,000 U.S. troops, had rejected Pyongyang's reasoning as baseless and demanded North Korea adhere to the original plan.

Mixed messages

South Korea's efforts to restore Korean ties comes as North Korea continues to fire a barrage of personal attacks on U.S. President George W. Bush over remarks in which he called North Korean leader Kim Jong-il secretive and suspicious.

Two Koreas: Reconciliation, Engagement, Cooperation

And while it spurned an earlier call by the U.S. to resume talks, Pyongyang said on Monday it still seeks to improve relations with Washington.

In another surprising move, North Korea has sent a three-member delegation to attend a three-day meeting of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP), which opened in Washington on Monday.

The delegation is the first North Korean group to visit the United States since the September 11 suicide attacks.

North Korea joined the 20-member, non-governmental CSCAP in 1994, and has been known to use such informal contacts to send diplomatic signals and probe policy positions of the United States in the absence of regular negotiations.


• Bush presses N Korea for talks
October 19, 2001
• N. Korea shuns U.S. calls for talks
October 26, 2001
• N Korea calls off family reunions
October 12, 2001

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