SEOUL, SEPT. 5 (WEDNESDAY) -- The prime ministers of North Korea and South Korea today outlined conflicting blueprints for ending hostile relations between the two nations by opening their sealed border and cutting troop levels on the tense peninsula.
The proposals combined ideas that each side has proposed in the past and appeared to concur on some broad ideas -- including a non-aggression pact, cross-border travel, military hot lines and communication on planned troop movements -- but they seemed to offer no concessions on means for achieving these and other goals.
North Korean Prime Minister Yon Hyong Muk repeated his side's longstanding demand for withdrawal of the approximately 40,000 American troops stationed in South Korea, as well as the nuclear weapons the United States is believed to have there. He also said that North and South should reduce their troop levels in stages, first to 300,000, then to 200,000 and 100,000. South Korea has about 600,000 troops, and its officials estimate North Korean troop strength to be about 900,000 -- a figure the North Koreans deny.
South Korean Prime Minister Kang Young Hoon, opening the talks at a luxury hotel here after a brief chat about the weather and the rice harvest, made no mention of the U.S. troops. He repeated Seoul's proposal that North Korea first cut its troop level to that of the South.
Yon and 89 officials, aides and reporters arrived in the South Korean capital Tuesday for the highest-level dialogue between the communist and capitalist rival nations since their Cold War division in 1945. Even though the two sides agree on the need for reconciliation, many diplomats note that their continuing mistrust and ideological differences are likely to preclude any compromise or breakthrough at the current discussions.
South Korea's Kang outlined a proposal that called for the two sides to sign a non-aggression pact and a separate "basic agreement" in which they would agree to peaceful coexistence and an opening of their societies, including unrestricted travel across the 155-mile-long border, over which there has only been one authorized exchange of separated families since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
The North Koreans also called for an opening of the border, but as recently as two weeks ago the two nations were unable to organize a frontier crossing. Each side said also that publications should be distributed freely across the border -- a proposal that is unlikely to be implemented in view of each nation's reluctance to let its citizens learn about life on the other side of the 38th parallel.
When Yon and his entourage arrived in South Korea, they walked over the heavily guarded boundary at Panmunjom and were driven to Seoul on Unification Road as clusters of onlookers waved and applauded. Yon was ushered into the royal suite at the Intercontinental Hotel, which has three bedrooms and two living rooms and costs about $1,500 a night -- or $600 more than an average North Korean earns annually. South Korea is picking up the tab.
In a potentially troublesome arrival statement Tuesday, the North Koreans asked to visit the families of several imprisoned South Korean dissidents. Unification Minister Hong Sung Chul, one of the six senior South Koreans who will join Kang in the formal talks, indicated that visits to the prisoners' families would not be allowed for the seven official North Korean delegates or any of their aides and reporters. Until today, South Korea had said the North Koreans could travel freely around Seoul.
The bitter North-South rivalry grows out of the bloodshed, devastation and internecine hatred of the 1950-53 Korean War. Aside from a brief exchange of a handful of separated families in 1985, the Korean governments have prevented any exchange of citizens, mail or phone calls across their sealed border. Sporadic official contacts at the Panmunjom border village, begun in 1972, have failed to yield practical results.