South Korea agreed Monday to a proposal by communist North Korea for preliminary political talks next month and said the two nations were within sight of ending their bitter rivalry.

South Korean Prime Minister Kang Young-hoon accepted a North Korean plan for preliminary talks Feb. 8 to set terms for major talks headed by premiers of the two nations on ways to end their 40-year confrontation."The south and the north have crossed the threshold to open a new era of reconciliation and cooperation by coming out of an old era of antagonism and confrontation," Kang said in the letter turned over at the Panmunjom border truce site.

North Korea agreed Jan. 16 to a South Korean proposal to upgrade proposed political and military talks to the prime ministerial level in what would be the highest-level contact between the two sides since the Korean War.

The two sides will hold preliminary talks at Panmunjom Feb. 8 with five-member delegations headed by vice ministers to set terms for the premiers' talks.

In a seaparate development Monday, North Korean Olympic Committee chief Kim Yu Sun sent a letter to the south proposing a meeting March 9 at Panmunjom to discuss the two Koreas fielding a joint team at the Asian Games in Beijing in 1990.

The North Korean letter, which was also turned over at Panmunjom, said the north was convinced that an agreement could be reached if the two sides talked in an "atmosphere of mutual reconciliation and trust."

The two Koreas are involved in an unprecedented series of contacts ranging from parliamentary negotiations on a possible non-aggression pact to economic, cultural and personnel exchanges.

The talks headed by the two prime ministers are to consider resolving political and military disputes between the two rival nations.

Delegations of lawmakers from the two sides have been holding separate meetings on trying to set terms for full-scale talks between the north's and south's legislatures on peace-building measures.

South Korean officials hope the totalitarian north may be ready to seek improved relations and an end to the long rivalry for control of the divided Korean peninsula.