Lee Jin-man, Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea — Government delegates from North and South Korea held a marathon session of preparatory talks Sunday at a "truce village" on their heavily armed border aimed at setting ground rules for a higher-level discussion on easing animosity and restoring stalled rapprochement projects.
The meeting at Panmunjom, where the agreement ending fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War was signed, is the first of its kind on the Korean Peninsula in more than two years. Success will be judged on whether the delegates can pave the way for a meeting between the ministers of each country's department for cross-border affairs. Such ministerial talks haven't happened since 2007.
South Korea has proposed they take place Wednesday in Seoul.
The delegates were still talking more than 12 hours after the meeting began, but South Korean officials earlier seemed confident that they would eventually reach an agreement for the ministerial talks. It was unclear when the meeting would end or if a new round would also be held Monday.
The intense media interest in the bureaucrats' meeting is an indication of how bad relations between the Koreas have been. Any dialogue is an improvement on the belligerence that has marked the relationship over recent months and years.
Earlier this year, North Korea threatened nuclear war, claimed that the Korean War armistice was void, closed a jointly run factory park and vowed to ramp up production of nuclear bomb fuel. That followed North Korean nuclear tests and long-range rocket launches and, earlier, attacks blamed on the North that killed 50 South Koreans in 2010.
"Today's working-level talks will be a chance to take care of administrative and technical issues in order to successfully host the ministers' talks," one of the South Korean delegates, Unification Policy Officer Chun Hae-sung, said in Seoul before the group's departure for Panmunjom.
He said the southern delegation will keep in mind "that the development of South and North Korean relations starts from little things and gradual trust-building."
The delegates discussed the agenda for the ministerial meeting, location, date, the number of participants and how long they will stay in Seoul, if the meeting is held there, said the Unification Ministry, which is responsible for North Korea issues.
Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk told reporters earlier in the day that there were no major disputes. Reporters weren't allowed at the venue.
Analysts have expressed wariness about North Korea's intentions, with some seeing the interest in dialogue as part of a pattern where Pyongyang follows aggressive rhetoric and provocations with diplomatic efforts to trade an easing of tension for outside concessions.
If the Koreas can arrive at an agreement for ministerial talks, that meeting will likely focus on reopening the factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong that was the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, and on other scrapped rapprochement projects and reunions of families separated by the Korean War.
Pyongyang pulled its 53,000 workers from the Kaesong factories in April, and Seoul withdrew its last personnel in May.
Success will also mark a victory for South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who took office in February and has maintained through the heightened tensions a policy that combines vows of strong counter-action to any North Korea provocation with efforts to build trust and re-establish dialogue.
The Koreas have been communicating on a recently restored Red Cross line that Pyongyang shut down during earlier tensions this spring. The site of Sunday's meeting holds added significance because the armistice ending fighting in the Korean War was signed there 60 years ago next month. The Panmunjom truce, however, has never been replaced with a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula technically at war.
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