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North Korea agrees to peace talks

Korea graphic

Need for food seen as reason for breakthrough

June 25, 1997
Web posted at: 10:34 a.m. EDT (1434 GMT)

In this story:

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- North Korea has agreed to sit down with its old enemies South Korea and the United States next week to prepare four-party peace talks, South Korea said Wednesday, the 47th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War.

"Pyongyang has accepted a suggestion that senior officials from the two Koreas, the United States and China meet around early August to set an agenda and other details for the peace talks," a government official said.

Lower-level officials are to meet in New York next Monday to prepare for the August talks.

Last year, President Bill Clinton and South Korean President Kim Young-sam proposed that the four nations work out a peace settlement to replace the truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. Technically, the two Koreas are still at war.

Food for talks?

After a year of hesitation, North Korea agreed in April to participate in the four-way talks on the condition that it be given large-scale food aid. The North now appears to have dropped that demand.

South Korea and the United States -- which have already given millions of dollars in free food in response to reports of widespread starvation -- have said the additional assistance sought by the North could be discussed during peace talks.

The United States has pledged $25 million and South Korea $16 million in response to the United Nations World Food Program's most recent appeal for food for North Korea.

"North Korea's acceptance of the peace talks underlines how serious its food problem is," said Lee Ki-won, vice president at the independent Institute of North Korea Studies, based in South Korea.

"The North needs to ease its food shortage to allow its leader Kim Jong Il to formally take over power," he said.

On July 8, North Korea marks the third anniversary of the death of state founder Kim Il Sung, a milestone that analysts say could clear the way for his son, Kim Jong Il, to take over as head of the state and the ruling Workers Party.

The two posts have been left vacant since Kim Il-sung's death.

Officially, North Korea wary

The North's official daily newspaper said Pyongyang would be ready to discuss peace "as long as the enemies do not provoke a war..."

The Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial: "The Korean People's Army...is keeping a sharp eye on every move of the warmongers who are outwardly calling for 'four-way talks' to secure peace and security while waiting for a chance to trigger a war of aggression against the North."

Seoul Bureau Chief Sohn Jie-Ae and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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