Joint Korea Prime Ministerial meeting wrap up

Korean PMs ‘agree rail-link deal’


A regular freight train service over the heavily-armed border between North and South Korea could start before the end of the year, officials say.

The deal, on the second day of talks between prime ministers from the two countries, marks the first agreed schedule for the train link.

The South has pushed for reliable transport links to supply the factories its firms run in the North.

It follows an agreement made last month at a summit of the countries’ leaders.

‘Shared understanding’

North Korean Prime Minister Kim Yong-il and his counterpart from the South, Han Duck-soo, are spending three days in discussions in the South’s capital, Seoul.

The South’s Unification Ministry spokesman, Kim Nam-shik, said the two sides were now trying to set a specific date for starting the rail service.

The 25km (16 mile) track runs from the heavily-guarded border to a joint industrial complex in the North’s city of Kaesong.

“Both sides shared an understanding that it would be meaningful in further vitalising the Kaesong industrial complex,” said the spokesman.

The meeting – the first at prime ministerial level for 15 years – follows October’s historic summit in Pyongyang between the two countries’ leaders.

Divided families

The summit between the North’s Kim Jong-il and the South’s President Roh Moo-hyun was only the second such meeting since the Korean peninsula was partitioned over half a century ago.

The two leaders signed an accord calling for greater peace and economic partnership, despite the two countries remaining technically at war with each other.

They also agreed in principle for the regular cargo rail service to be established.

The prime ministers are using their meeting to discuss more specific proposals.

One key issue is the establishment of a joint fishing area around the disputed western sea border – the scene of naval clashes in the past – and a new economic zone around the North Korean port of Haeju.

The South also hopes to increase the number of reunion meetings for families separated when the peninsula was split.

Prime ministerial meetings between the two Koreas were suspended in 1992 amid growing concern over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.


Ministerial infidelity
Joong Ang Daily

Lee Yang-soo

The prime minister of North Korea holds one of the top positions in the country’s hierarchy, officially fourth in political power.

Many believe, however, that the prime minister may actually be about 20th in actual influence, as there are plenty of hidden power elites in the political and army circles.

The post of prime minister in North Korea was created after the introduction of the state president in 1972. Since then, eight people have occupied the post. Among them, the person who impressed us the most was Yeon Hyung-muk, who held the job from 1988 to 1992.

The prime minister of North Korea faces tough and dangerous working conditions.

Kim Il Sung emphasized the significance of the post by insisting that the “prime minister is the general of the nation’s economy.” The prime minister, in turn, has often been made the scapegoat for the people’s discontent about the country’s struggling economy.

And to make a bad situation worse, the public economy always took a backseat to the military economy, which led to nuclear and missile development.

One after another, numerous ministers have stepped down in dishonor or suffered incurable illness.

After the dishonorable withdrawal of former Prime Minister Li Gun-mo (1986-1988), Li’s successor, Yeon Hyung-muk, was demoted after four years to the post of candidate member for the Political Bureau Presidium, or secretary of Jagangdo Provincial Party. In addition, Prime Minister Park Bong-ju was demoted last April to manager of a small-town company.

Since assuming the reins of government, Kim Jong-il has recruited people who know the economy well to the top posts.

However, he took a “military first” attitude whenever the cabinet, the Workers Party, and army were in discord over the issue of opening and reform.

In contrast, the president of the People’s Republic of China, Jiang Zemin, gave Zhu Rongji, premier of the state council, a carte blanche to decide every affair in public administration and the national economy.

For example, when rumors spread that the yuan would be further devalued, he consulted Zhu. At that time, Zhu’s nickname was “emperor of the Chinese economy.” China has shown great fidelity to the principle that the “prime minister is the general of the national economy.”

Come to think of it, South Korea has had 27 prime ministers since 1972, representing its own infidelity to the prime minister. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.


Koreas agree to open cargo railway, but key issues remain unresolved

Kim Hyun

South and North Korea agreed Thursday to open a cross-border cargo railway by the end of this year — resuming the service halted more than half a century ago — as part of economic cooperation projects agreed upon in their leaders’ recent summit.

Seoul proposed Dec. 11 as the date to start the railway service through the demilitarized zone, a Unification Ministry official said on condition of anonymity. But North Korea’s response was not yet known.

The agreement to open a freight railway came on the second day of talks between South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and North Korean Premier Kim Yong-il in Seoul. The rare prime ministerial talks were aimed at devising concrete plans to implement wide-ranging accords reached between the leaders of the Koreas.

In their summit in early October, President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il agreed on a slew of economic cooperation and peace projects. They also agreed that the agreements should be implemented through two follow-up talks — one between prime ministers and the other between defense ministers.

“There is a growing understanding between the sides for the start of the cargo rail service,” Kim Nam-shik, a spokesman for the Unification Ministry, told reporters. He said that the project “seemed highly possible,” even though more consultations are needed to secure a military guarantee by North Korea.

The 20-km cross-border route between South Korea’s Munsan and the North’s Bongdong will allow the mass transport of goods from a joint industrial complex in North Korea to the South, Seoul officials say.

The Koreas also agreed to set up a joint committee to create a peace zone in the disputed border area in the West Sea, part of key summit accords to reduce tension, the ministry spokesman said. Bloody skirmishes occurred in 1999 and 2002 near the disputed sea border, which North Korea does not acknowledge. The western sea border was unilaterally drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations Command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Pyongyang has called for a new line to be drawn further south.

The peace project in the West Sea will likely include the creation of a joint fishing area in the western sea border area, and the establishment of an economic special zone in Haeju in southwestern North Korea, which will transform the naval base area into an economic stronghold.

The Koreas also made progress in social and cultural areas, the spokesman said, without elaborating on specifics.

But key issues remained unresolved.

The top item on North Korea’s agenda is South Korea’s heavy investment in the renovation of its antiquated railways and roads, said the Chosun Sinbo, published by ethnic Koreans in Japan.

The North Korean premier said in the talks that such South Korean support will help implement the summit accords “in a relatively short amount of time,” the paper said.

Pyongyang also expects Seoul’s money to develop shipbuilding facilities in the country, Seoul officials said.

South Korea is expected to seek North Korea’s support in improving the business environment in the Kaesong industrial complex, where communication facilities are poor and border customs inspections are highly restrictive.

The Kaesong complex, where scores of South Korean factories produce garments, shoes and other labor-intensive goods with North Korea’s cheap but skilled labor, emerged from agreements at the first-ever inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in 2000. But business restrictions and political strains have limited its development.

Other issues include reunions of families separated since the 1950-53 Korean War, with South Korea pushing to regularize the sporadic events.

The two Koreas are expected to issue a joint statement wrapping up their three-day talks on Friday. To settle outstanding details, Seoul has proposed to hold follow-up economic talks between vice prime ministers in the second week of December, a Unification Ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

The Koreas held eight rounds of prime ministerial talks until 1992, when they signed an accord calling for an end to Cold War hostilities on the Korean Peninsula. But the talks were suspended afterward as relations soured over a dispute on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

This week’s talks, covering economic projects, will put aside thorny issues on military tension, which will be dealt with in defense ministers’ talks set for Nov. 27-29 in Pyongyang, Seoul officials said.

Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said on the first day that this week’s talks were “a bit more flexible, a bit more amicable” than previous inter-Korean meetings.

South Korea expects that improved inter-Korean ties will facilitate progress in ongoing multilateral talks to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

The communist nation has shut down five key nuclear facilities under an aid-for-denuclearization accord signed in early October in talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia.

Pyongyang is also supposed to disable its key nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and submit a full list of its nuclear programs by the end of the year in return for the normalization of ties with the U.S. and Japan, as well as economic and energy assistance from the other parties involved.

N.K. asks for help in repairs to facilitate implementation of summit agreement: report

Byun Duk-kun

North Korea has asked South Korea to help repair its dilapidated railways and roads so the agreements at the recent inter-Korean summit can be quickly implemented, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper published in Japan reported Thursday.

In a rare report from Seoul, the Chosun Shinbo said North Korean Prime Minister Kim Yong-il proposed the modernization of North Korea’s railway between the border town of Kaesong and the northwestern city of Shinuiju at his talks with South Korea’s Han Duck-soo.

Kim, 63, was also quoted as saying that projects to modernize railways and roads will enable the joint declaration from the inter-Korean summit to be implemented “in a relatively short amount of time.”

The North Korean arrived here Wednesday for three days of talks to follow up on the summit held in Pyongyang on Oct. 2-4.

At the summit, President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il called for a quick expansion of economic cooperation and an end to military hostilities between the divided Koreas.

This week’s talks had been expected to focus on economic issues as separate talks between the defense ministers of the two countries are to be held in Pyongyang later this month.

Seoul is also calling for an early opening of cargo rail service between the North’s border town of Kaesong, where dozens of South Korean businesses are producing over US$1 million worth of goods each month, and its border town of Munsan.

Still, the Seoul government is placing more weight on the opening of other areas in the reclusive North to South Korean businesses as well as establishing a joint fishing area in the West Sea, where a maritime border dispute led to deadly clashes between the navies of the divided Koreas in 1999 and 2002. The Koreas technically remain at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Seoul officials are also calling for easier access for South Korean businesses to the South Korea-funded industrial complex in Kaesong as well as the relaxing of customs and quarantine inspections at the border.

The North Korean premier said his country is ready to resolve the difficulties facing the South Korean businesses operating in Kaesong, according to the report.

“The North side believes what the leaders (of the two Koreas) agreed are not mere economic cooperation projects, but projects that will lead to the reconciliation, unification and prosperity of the nation,” the report said.


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