The first political meeting in nearly six years between North and South Korea produced a lot of smiles and handshakes today and an agreement to meet again in three weeks.
But the two sides made no progress on substantive issues and seemed to be as divided as ever over the key procedural question of who is entitled to represent each side in negotiations aimed at unifying the divided country.
The 90-minute meeting in this armistice village ended with South Korea insisting it will talk only with representatives of a revived South-North Coordinating Committee, which last met in 1973.
The North insisted with equal firmness that its "Democratic Front for the Unification of the Fatherland" is the proper body to represent its side.
The deadlock was overshadowed by the rare sight of the eight representatives shaking hands amiably, exchanging pleasantries, and sipping tea together in this bleak Demilitarized Zone that has divided Korea since the war ended in 1953.
The North Koreans clearly came to present an image of hearty good neighborliness after years of belligerent propaganda aimed at the South. All obstacles could be overcome, they said, if the talks continue like today's.
They were backed up by the surprise appearance of representatives from almost every foreign country that has embassies in Pyongyang, the capital of the North. The Soviet ambassador was there and so were two emissaries from the former Cambodian government of Pol Pot, whose government North Korea still recognizes.
Four representatives from each Korea sat down at a table covered with a green cloth in a barracks-like meeting room usually used by neutral nation's delegates attached to the armistice commission.
Despite the cold weather, they left open the windows so the event could be filmed and monitored by reporters from both Koreas, the United States, the Soviet Union, and West Germany.
In bantering before the meeting, a spokesman from the South observed that the previous night's snow would produce "bumper crops" next year. A North Korean delegate countered with the optimistic suggestion that their meeting today might produce a "bumper crop" of friendly dialogue.
When is came time for business, however, neither side was giving much ground. Neither even referred to the event as a meeting -- both described it merely as a "contact."
In the end, they agreed to meet again on March 7, at the South's suggestion, and decided in principle that they will reopen the telephone hot line that once was used for liaison between Pyongyang and Seoul.
The meeting resulted from a series of maneuvers over the past month that would have been unlikely a few months earlier.
On Jan. 19, South Korean President Park Chung Hee said he was willing to hold unification talks with the North's authorities "at any time and on any level." To everyone's surprise, the North snapped up the offer and said representatives of its Democratic Front would come to Panmunjom.
Although strongly opposed to dealing with the Front -- a propaganda organization embracing 18 social groups in North Korea -- the South agreed to the preliminary talks so as not to appear to be boycotting a chance of negotiations on narrow procedural grounds.
South Korean officials say the Front is devoted to a revolutionary overthrow of their government. Furthermore, the Front insists that negotiations should be conducted through a "whole-nation congress" that would include social groups from both sides. That presumably would mean the South would have to send a divided delegation, including a number of President Park's political enemies and dissidents, while the North's delegation would be monolithic.
The South opened today's dialogue with a harshly worded statement accussing Pyongyang of obstinacy and of "hiding behind the so-called 'Democratic Front for Unification of the Fatherland.'"
Min Kwan Shik, chairman of the South's half of the Coordinating Committee denounced the Front as a "suspicious social organization which we can in no way regard as responsible authorities of the Pyongyang side and, thus, which we can never accept as a counterpart in a serious dialogue with us."
The North's chief representative, Kwon Min Jun avoided harsh language but firmly insisted that the Front is the most authentic body to represent his side. However, he promised to convey the South's message back to the northern half of the dormant Coordinating Committee in Pyongyang.
There were a few minor, indirect signs that there may be room for negotiation on the composition of a unification conference. The North did not mention its plan for a wholenation congress. It talked only of forming a joint "preparatory committee" and did not discuss that committee's membership, although in the past it has described it as the sort of broadly based committee of social groups that the South rejects.
Also, the South hinted that it would not insist on reviving the old Coordinating Committee in its original form entirely.
After the meeting, the South did not appear totally displeased with the results and seemed surprised that their old enemies had shown up in such a pleasant mood.
One South Korean delegate, Hahm Byoung Choon, called his adversaries polite and civil and said: "It is significant that the two sides sat down together. That in itself is important." Both sides subscribed to the goal of unification by peaceful means, he said.
Another Seoul delegate, Lee Dong Bok, said the North's main motive seemed to be merely a continuation of talks like today's without resolving immediately the issue of the composition of permanent negotiating teams.
That apparently was achieved by the agreement to meet again on March 7, because it seemed likely that the North would send back the same four delegates representing the Democratic Front. That raises the possibility that the South either will become locked into a series of talks with the Front it supposedly rejects or will have to abandon the talks completely.
The South's delegates declined today to speculate on what will happen if the same Front delegates keep returning to Panmunjom.