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Koreas OK Meeting of Prime Ministers

From Reuters

North and South Korea agreed Thursday on details for talks between their prime ministers next week, clearing the way for the highest-level contact between the two since 1945, a South Korean spokesman said.

“The two sides concluded all procedural matters for the high-level talks to be held in Seoul,” he said after liaison officials from the two governments met in the border village of Panmunjom.

“North Korean Prime Minister Yon Hyong Muk and six other delegates will now cross the border on Sept. 4 for the historic meeting,” he said.

The two Koreas signed an agreement in July to exchange visits by their prime ministers this year for talks aimed at reducing tension on the peninsula and at eventual reunification.

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The Seoul talks will be the highest-level contact between the two states since Korea was divided in 1945 by the victors in World War II, who ended Japan’s 35-year colonial rule of the peninsula.

But diplomats and North Korea-watchers in Seoul had doubted that the meeting between Yon and South Korean Prime Minister Kang Young Hoon would take place because many inter-Korean agreements have collapsed while the two sides negotiated procedures.

Earlier this month, the two agreed to allow limited traffic across the border to mark Korean Independence Day on Aug. 15. But the heavily fortified border remained sealed after the accord collapsed in a flurry of disputes over transport arrangements and hotel rooms.

Kim Chang Soon, head of the Institute for North Korean Studies, said he did not expect substantial achievements in the first encounter between the prime ministers, in view of wide differences in the two Koreas’ visions of peace and unity.

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South Korean officials, however, believe that the meeting itself will be significant.

“It will provide an opportunity for a genuine dialogue between responsible authorities. We are making a good-faith effort to ensure its success,” Assistant Foreign Minister Lee Joung Binn told reporters earlier this week.

Seoul hopes to begin a large-scale exchange of visits, duty-free trade and business ventures to encourage peaceful coexistence pending reunification.


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