(ATTN: ADDS updated info in para 6)
PANMUNJOM, Korea, June 1 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) -- North Korea on Friday proposed holding joint events in South Korea to mark the anniversary of the two Koreas' first ever summit in 2000, a unification ministry official said.
South Korea also proposed opening a liaison office in the North Korean border city of Kaesong as the first step to implement the agreements reached by their leaders in the April 27 summit. The North shared the need to open such an office as soon as possible, according to the official.
The proposals were exchanged at inter-Korean talks at the truce village of Panmunjom in the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides the Koreas. Its morning session ended after less than an hour.
During the morning session, South Korea called for the two Koreas to conduct a joint research to reconnect the severed railways and roads along their western and eastern regions, while expressing an intent to hold working-level talks at the earliest possible date to advance cooperation in military, sports, forestry and other areas.
The North agreed to the need to hold follow-up meetings to discuss cross-border cooperation, the official said.
A ministry source said the two sides are now working on the wording for agreements that they will announce after the talks, raising expectations that they have almost ironed out major differences.
The inter-Korean meeting is mainly intended to discuss follow-up measures to the agreements that South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reached in their summits held on April 27 and May 26.
In the Panmunjom Declaration adopted during the April meeting, the two reaffirmed the goal of complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, agreed to halt all hostile acts against each other, open a joint liaison office in the North's border city of Kaesong and vowed various cooperation efforts.
They promised to hold a reunion of families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War on the occasion of the Aug. 15 Liberation Day. It was expected that the two Koreas will discuss details related to arranging joint events to mark the June 15 declaration adopted after the first inter-Korean summit in 2000. Such joint events were last held in 2008 at Mount Kumgang on the North's scenic eastern coast.
Given that the delegations include officials handling transportation and railroad affairs, it was expected that linking railroads along their western and eastern regions could be on the agenda, as agreed upon in the April summit.
A full-blown cross-border economic cooperation, however, would take time due to multilayered sanctions imposed on the North in the wake of its missile and nuclear tests until late last year, observers said.
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon is leading South Korea's five-member delegation, including Vice Transport Minister Kim Jeong-ryeol and Vice Culture Minster Roh Tae-kang.
The North's five-member team is being headed by Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country. It also includes Vice Railroad Minister Kim Yun-hyok and Vice Sports Minister Won Kil-u.
The two Koreas emphasized the importance of mutual trust and respect before starting the inter-Korean talks.
"Looking back on the inter-Korean relationship, it can be compared to a cart that runs toward peace, prosperity and unification," North Korea's chief delegate Ri said at the start of the talks.
"We can think of North and South Korea as the wheels that move the cart forward," he said, adding that the driving force behind the cart is mutual "trust and respect."
Cho echoed the view.
"I believe that there is no problem that we cannot solve together if we deal with it based on trust, respect and understanding of the other side, which is the basic mindset that South and North Korea both agree to," the South's chief delegate said.
The high-level talks were originally scheduled for May 16, but the North called them off at the last minute, taking issue with joint military drills between South Korea and the United States.
The abrupt and unilateral cancellation threw cold water over growing peace mood following the summit in April, which was the first of its kind between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The two Koreas previous held summits in 2000 and 2007.
In their second summit held last week, Moon and Kim agreed to hold high-level talks this week and agreed to work together to make a North Korea-U.S. summit happen.
A flurry of diplomacy is under way to prepare for a potential summit between North Korea and the U.S., which will likely take place in Singapore on June 12 to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has reaffirmed his commitment to denuclearization in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Pyongyang on Thursday and expressed hope for a "stage-by-stage" resolution of the nuclear standoff, according to the North's state media Friday.
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