Breakthrough on North Korea links


The two Koreas have agreed to begin work on restoring road and rail links across their troubled border.

The agreement, which followed two days of economic talks in Seoul, is the latest sign that the secretive North is determined to end its diplomatic isolation.

The North has also agreed to receive Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for an historic visit in September.

The two countries have no diplomatic relations and no Japanese prime minister has ever visited.

Mr Koizumi was due to spend one day in the North on 17 September and hold talks with its leader Kim Jong-il.

“I want to discuss directly with him the possibility of restarting efforts to normalize our relations,” Mr Koizumi said.

Japan and South Korea’s eagerness to engage with North Korea appeared to sit at odds with American wariness towards the communist state.

On Thursday, a senior US diplomat warned that North Korea was the world’s leading exporter of ballistic missile technology and repeated President George W Bush’s assertion that it forms part of an “axis of evil”.

Mr Koizumi said he had discussed the visit with both US President George W Bush and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. A Japanese official said the visit had been under discussion for more than a year.

North-South progress

According to the South Korean version of a joint statement issued on Friday, both sides had agreed to reconnect one railway line by the end of this year and construct a second by early next year.

Importantly, the two sides’ militaries will hold talks before work begins on 18 September.

The 4-kilometer-wide (2.5-mile-wide) demilitarized zone is heavily mined. Military co-operation is seen as a pre-requisite for the transport links, which have been cut since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, to be restored safely.

South Korea said it had agreed to send 400,000 tonnes and 100,000 tonnes of fertiliser to North Korea on credit as soon as possible.

The North’s command economy has been unable to feed its people for several years and there have been widespread reports of famine.

Mr Koizumi’s proposed visit to North Korea was apparently raised at talks in Pyongyang this week between Japanese and North Korean officials.

Japan and North Korea relations are often tense, especially over Japanese allegations that some of its nationals were kidnapped to train North Korean spies.


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