North and South Korea reached agreement on minor procedural issues for a prime minister's conference today but failed to agree on a location and agenda for the talks.
After a second day of working-level talks, delegates from the two countries remained at odds over the question of whether to hold the prime ministerial discussions on the Korean peninsula or in a neutral city such as Geneva.
Despite the impasse, delegates from both sides appeared cordial in their greetings and joked informally before settling down behind closed doors. They agreed to meet again on March 4.
The working-level talks represent the first serious effort in eight years to arrange negotiations on unifying the two countries, which have been divided since the end of World War II. A shift in the North's positions following the assassination last fall of South Korean president Park Chung Hee has led to the current round of preliminary discussions.
Choosing the location for prime ministers to meet appeared to be the big hurdle. The North has favored holding the talks alternately in the capitals of Pyongyang and Seoul. The South Koreans have argued in favor of Geneva, although it is also believed prepared to accept another neutral site. Indonesia, which has embassies in both countries, is also considered a possible choice.
Arranging an agenda also has proved to be a sticking point. The South so far has argued for establishing an agenda for unification talks in advance while the North wants to leave that to the prime ministers at their first meeting.
Today's meeting also left unresolved the question of how many representatives each side could send to the high-level meetings. The North has proposed sending a 30-member delegation while the South favors only a 5-member delegation accompanied by a few aides.
Neither side appears to be in a great hurry to settle these differences, and two or three more working-level meetings may be scheduled to resolve them.
The North's delegation today was headed by Hyoy Chun Guk, an official of the communist government's administration council. Kim Young Chu, an ambassador now at the Foreign Ministry, led the South's delegation.
They joked about the chilly weather and other matters before entering today's meeting place, a building under North Korean supervision within the joint security area of this truce village.
While they were meeting behind closed doors, North Korean journalists treated the South's reporters to beer and other refreshments at a nearby press center.
after the 2 1/2-hour meeting, one of the South's delegates, Lee Dong Bok, outlined for reporters a six-point agreement on procedural matters which had been reached.
Its main element provided that the high-level meetings could be held in public or private, depending on the wishes of the prime ministers at each meeting. That represented a concession by the South, which had favored a prior agreement on closed-door meetings.
The two sides also agreed that at the prime ministerial meetings agreements would be signed and exchanged, discussions could be recorded by tape or stenographer, press briefings would be separate unless jointly agreed on and name plates of participants would be displayed at each meeting.
They also agreed that the fixing of a date for the the prime minister's meeting would be determined after the current series of working-level talks is over.