SEOUL, South Korea – North and South Korea resumed high-level meetings Tuesday for the first time since the North tested a nuclear bomb in October, paving the way for a resumption of aid to impoverished Pyongyang after it pledged to start dismantling its atomic weapons program.
As South Korean officials arrived Tuesday afternoon in the North Korean capital, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said in Seoul that it was important to show North Korea that it would get more for abandoning its nuclear weapons than keeping them.
"We have to keep sending signals (to the North) that their security will be guaranteed and they could get profits through reform and openness," Roh told a news conference.
Roh also said he believed North Korea would not use its nuclear weapons unless attacked first, saying it would be something "only mental patients can do."
Meanwhile, the North's main nuclear envoy traveled Tuesday to China on his way to the United States, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. Kim Kye Gwan has been invited to New York by his U.S. counterpart, Christopher Hill, to begin meetings aimed at normalizing relations between the countries under a breakthrough disarmament agreement.
The Cabinet-level meetings between the Koreas that resumed Tuesday — their highest regular channel of dialogue — signify the eased tensions on the divided peninsula since Pyongyang's Feb. 13 agreement at international arms talks to shut down its main nuclear reactor within 60 days in exchange for energy aid.
The chief South Korean delegate, Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung, praised the nuclear deal during an informal meeting with his North Korean counterpart, Senior Cabinet Councilor Kwon Ho Ung.
"A good agreement was reached ... based on the principle of equality and balance," Lee told Kwon during their 15-minute chat at his hotel in Pyongyang, according to pool reports.
Kwon did not respond.
The high-level talks were last held in July, when the South refused to continue aid to the North after it test-fired a series of missiles. The countries' relations further soured after the North's nuclear test.
The two sides will discuss how to implement the Feb. 13 agreement, Lee said Tuesday before his departure. That agreement calls for a separate forum on bringing peace to the Korean peninsula, which has remained technically in a state of war since the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War.
This week's talks are also expected to touch on restoring South Korea's humanitarian aid of rice and fertilizer to the North, and resuming reunions of families split by the border. The reunions have been on hold since aid was suspended last year.
Local media have reported that the two sides may talk about holding an inter-Korean summit, but Roh on Tuesday dismissed the idea as premature.
"It's not the right time," Roh said, stressing that resolving the North Korean nuclear issue should precede a summit.
The first and only summit between the two Koreas was held in 2000 between then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang. The North's Kim promised to pay a return visit to the South for a second summit, but has not honored that pledge.
Another key issue in this week's meetings will be whether the North allows a test run of trains on rebuilt tracks through the heavily armed frontier dividing the peninsula. A planned test run was put off last year because the North Korean military said proper security arrangements had not been made.