Koreas progress on border links


North Korea has made a key concession on cross-border road and rail links with South Korea, South Korean officials have said.

The move means that tourists and businessmen from the South could be able to cross over to the North Korea within weeks.

The apparent breakthrough in the long-running negotiations came as South Korea’s top national security adviser, Lim Dong-wan, arrived in Pyongyang seeking to resolve tension over the Stalinist state’s nuclear programme.

Mr Lim, a former unification minister, said he hoped to avert war, but warned he did not have a quick solution.

“My visit to Pyongyang is designed to lay the ground for dialogue on the peaceful settlement of the North Korean nuclear issue that will help avoid war,” Mr Lim said before leaving Seoul on Monday.

The BBC’s Caroline Gluck in Seoul says North Korea’s decision to allow the visit indicates it is now willing to accept mediation from its neighbours. Before, it had said it would only discuss the nuclear issue with Washington.

North Korea’s concession in the separate, cross-border talks ends months of wrangling over who should control the so-called Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas.

Analysts said North Korea might be pushing for progress with the South as a way to undermine South Korea’s alliance with the United States, which favours a much harder line policy on engaging with the North.

‘Cat’s paw’

The South Korean delegation includes Lee Jong-suk, an advisor to President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, who takes office next month.

Its visit comes a day after the US said it had no intention of attacking North Korea but warned the nuclear standoff was a danger to Asia.

Mr Lim is expected to meet North Korean leaders and other top officials during his visit.

North Korea on Monday hit out at the United Nations nuclear watchdog, describing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as the “cat’s paw” of the United States.

“It is… an objective reality that the secretariat of the IAEA is not in a position to discuss the DPRK’s (North Korea) issue and the days are gone, never to return, when it could unreasonably handle it,” reported the official Korean Central News Agency.

The Vienna-based IAEA has said it will hold an emergency session on 3 February to decide whether to refer the nuclear issue to the UN Security Council.

The crisis started last October, when the US said North Korea had admitted it was working on a banned nuclear weapons programme.

The US stopped fuel aid to North Korea in protest, and that led to North Korea expelling United Nations weapons inspections and announcing it was reactivating a previous nuclear programme.

Earlier this month North Korea announced it was pulling out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


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