A new round of talks involving North and South Korea opens today amid hopes that the discussion will move beyond Cold War rhetoric and make real progress toward a lasting peace.

South Korea's new president, former dissident Kim Dae-jung, has made improvement of relations with the North a top priority. But the South Korean government is distracted by the country's economic crisis.North Korea, meanwhile, has indicated it is willing to talk with the new government in the South - something it has refused to do for years. It, however, still went ahead with annual wartime mobilization exercises last week and declared that the Geneva talks may be a "smoke screen aimed at attacking us."

The four-party meeting in Geneva will be led by China - one of the last remaining friends of the isolated communist North. The United States - the South's main defender - also will be present as mediator.

The main topic of discussion was to be a permanent peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, as well as accompanying measures to cut tension. But most observers expect these will take years to achieve given the depth of mistrust between the two nations.

The meetings at Geneva's main diplomatic conference center follow up on a two-day session in December and are expected to last all week. Regular meetings every two or three months are expected to follow.