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Koreas Agree to New Family Reunions, But Food Aid to be Delayed

  • Kurt Achin

North and South Korea have agreed to resume North-South family reunions, and have scheduled meetings aimed at restarting North-South projects that were put on hold by the North's missile and nuclear tests. What the first inter-Korean talks in months did not produce was a specific South Korean commitment to resume food and fertilizer shipments to the North. VOA Correspondent Kurt Achin has more from Seoul.

Although North Korea opened the inter-Korean talks in Pyongyang this week by asking for a resumption of "humanitarian programs," South Korea is not discussing emergency shipments of food and fertilizer to the North until Pyongyang fulfils the promise it made on February 13.

At six-party negotiations on its nuclear weapons programs last month, Pyongyang promised South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the United States it would disable its main nuclear reactor by mid-April. This is designed as a preliminary step toward full abandonment of the North's nuclear weapons programs.

Friday, as the Inter-Korean talks concluded in the North Korean capital, the two sides issued a statement promising "joint efforts to smoothly implement" the February agreement.

The joint statement includes no specific commitment by the South to resume the food and fertilizer shipments badly needed by the impoverished North. That is expected to be discussed at an economic cooperation meeting, which the two Koreas have scheduled to begin April 18.

Cho Song-ryol is a Director at Seoul's Institute for New Security Strategy. He points out the economic meeting does not begin until several days after the deadline for North Korea to shut down its nuclear facility. He says that is significant.

Cho says the timing of the meeting shows that South Korea has the will to delay its decision-making in order to see how well the Beijing agreement is progressing.

Cho and other experts say the fate of inter-Korean relations is now tightly linked to the progress of the six-nation diplomacy.

The two Koreas did agree to resume reunions for families still separated by the 1950s Korean War. One round of reunions via video is scheduled for later this month, and North Korea says it will host face-to-face reunions in May. The two sides also committed to finish constructing a permanent reunion facility as soon as possible.

North Korea interrupted the reunions, and cut off most inter-Korean contact, seven months ago. That is when, in response to ballistic missile tests by Pyongyang, Seoul suspended emergency food shipments to the North. North Korea went on to conduct a nuclear weapons test in October.

Friday's joint statement includes a list of dates for the two countries to discuss other outstanding issues, such as a potential test-run of railroads linking the North and South. The Koreas also agreed to discuss what the joint statement calls "people whose fate was unknown during or after the Korean War."

South Korea believes more than 400 of its soldiers were captured during the war and have never been released. It also believes a roughly equal number of its citizens were abducted by the North since the war, and are still alive there.

Another round of ministerial talks is scheduled for Seoul on May 29.

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