Delegates from North and South Korea, sitting down together after five months of delays, exchanged proposals today on reopening economic relations but adjourned without reaching any conclusions.
The two-hour session was conducted at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the tense Korean Peninsula. It ended with the two sides agreeing to meet there again on June 20 to continue the discussions.
The talks signaled the resumption of a North-South dialogue that began last fall but was suspended by the North Koreans in November because of alleged military provocation from the South.
Although delegates reached no agreement today, the meeting was cordial and devoid of the political posturing and rhetoric that have paralyzed many past North-South discussions.
On May 27, 34 North Korean Red Cross officials and about 50 North Korean journalists are scheduled to travel by road from the Demilitarized Zone to Seoul for separate talks on the reunion of families that were separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
The South is still considering its response to a recent proposal from the North to open a third forum -- discussions between legislators from the two sides.
All economic links between North and South have been suspended since shortly before the Korean War broke out in June 1950. The war ended with an armistice in 1953, but the two sides have remained intensely hostile. About 40,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.
Both North and South Korea have said that trade and joint development projects could reduce tension and facilitate discussion of political differences. Those differences, however, will tend to complicate the economic talks.
In today's session, North Korean chief delegate Lee Sung Rok proposed establishment of a high-level joint committee for economic cooperation, to be headed by deputy prime ministers from the two sides.
Under his plan, seven subcommittees would handle such areas as resource development, commodity trade and banking. Lee expressed hope that the committee could hold its first meeting in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, in September.
South Korean chief delegate Kim Ki Hwan, however, stressed immediate work on specific tasks. He mentioned opening of ports to each other's vessels, restoration of a North-South rail line and opening of a joint fishing ground. Working-level meetings on the rail line should be held within a month, he said.
As a first step toward trade, he said the South was ready to purchase 300,000 tons of anthracite coal from the North this year. South Korea has almost no energy resources.
The North Koreans, however, refused to discuss Kim's proposals today and reiterated their desire for formation of a joint committee.