Representatives of famine-stricken North Korea held their first governmental talks with South Korea in more than a year here today after the two sides resolved a problem over a fertilizer shipment.
The talks were scheduled to begin Monday, but North Korea put off the meeting at the last minute, saying it would not attend until a promised shipment of 22,000 tons of fertilizer arrived from South Korea. The shipment had been held up by bad weather, but when it reached the North Korean port of Nampo early today, representatives from the North agreed to start the meetings.
Relations between the two nations have been extremely strained in recent weeks, and today's meeting was being watched closely.
Last week, a South Korean navy sank a North Korean warship that entered a disputed area in the Yellow Sea. Twenty or more North Korean sailors were presumed killed.
North Korea has sent mixed messages about its posture toward the South since the shoot-out. A few days afterward, the North abruptly canceled a ceremony to return the remains of four soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War. On Sunday, the North detained a tourist from South Korea who allegedly discussed defections. But North Korean generals did meet this morning with U.S. and South Korean generals at the border village of Panmunjom to discuss the naval shoot-out.
The naval clash was also a topic of today's meeting in Beijing, said South Korean Vice Unification Minister Yang Young Shik, who headed his country's delegation. Other subjects included the possible reuniting of thousands of families separated by the Korean War and a 1991 agreement meant to improve relations. But Yang gave no details. The two delegations agreed to consult later today about a second round of meetings.
South Korean President Kim Dae Jung has advocated a "sunshine policy" toward the secretive, isolated North intended to build ties and reduce tensions. But recent events have thrown those efforts into question.
South Korea said today it would suspend a $942 million tourism and development project in North Korea unless the North Koreans release the tourist detained since Sunday.
After an emergency National Security Council meeting Monday night, South Korean national security adviser Hwang Won Tak demanded the release of the 38-year-old woman, who is accused of violating North Korean law by telling a North Korean woman that defectors live comfortably in the South.
By holding the tourist, Min Young Mi, North Korea is jeopardizing the largest inter-Korean tourist project in history, and the most tangible result of Kim's "sunshine policy."
More than 80,000 tourists have visited the North since the project started last fall. The detained woman was among some 560 tourists who were scheduled to return to South Korea today. Another cruise that was scheduled to leave Monday with about 600 tourists aboard was canceled.
Laris reported from Beijing; Sullivan reported from Seoul.
CAPTION: South Korean Vice Minister for Reunification Yang Young Shik talks to reporters after North Korea postponed planned talks between the two sides.