SEOUL, OCT. 16 (TUESDAY) -- South Korea's prime minister, crossed the Demilitarized Zone on Tuesday for a second round of talks with his North Korean counterpart, reportedly carrying a message from President Roh Tae Woo to North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung proposing a meeting.
Prime Minister Kang Young Hoon, accompanied by 6 senior delegates, 33 officials and 50 journalists, is on a four-day visit to the North that marks another step forward in the cautious dialogue between the rival Korean regimes. The first round of talks -- at the highest level ever held between the countries -- took place in Seoul last month.
For North Korea, the prime ministers' talks are being held at a time when its planned economy continues to deteriorate and its closest allies, the Soviet Union and China, are improving relations with the South. Moscow and Seoul just established formal diplomatic ties over Pyongyang's objections, and China has been quietly building an economic relationship with the South.
According to political analysts, isolationist North Korea is attempting to stave off deeper troubles by toning down its hostility toward South Korea in a bid to gain diplomatic ties and economic aid from Japan and the United States. But the North's Stalinist leaders are believed to fear that real detente with Seoul will lead to their own removal through a popular opposition movement.
Roh, who has promised to treat Pyongyang as a partner and not as an enemy, wants to begin direct trade with the North and is willing to offer financial aid or investments, but the Seoul government is divided about detente, sources say. Reformists want to ease North Korea out of its isolation and poverty in an attempt to forestall any chaos that might result from instability, while hard-liners want to deprive North Korea of economic support in order to hasten its collapse.
South Korean officials have said they do not expect dramatic progress this week, noting that four decades of bitterness rooted in the fratricidal 1950-53 Korean War will not be undone anytime soon despite the end of the Cold War.
Officials here said they hope North Korea will give up its opposition to separate entry into the United Nations, which North Korea claims would prolong the division of the Korean Peninsula. South Korea, which like North Korea has observer status at the United Nations, aims to apply for full membership, perhaps before the end of this year.
Roh also wants to arrange an unprecedented meeting with North Korean President Kim. Newspapers and radio stations reported today that Roh was sending a message with Kang proposing such a meeting. The Korea Broadcasting System said Roh met privately with Kang to give him the message for Kim.