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(5th LD) Koreas to break ground for railway, road connection late Nov. or early Dec.

All Headlines 17:39 October 15, 2018

(ATTN: ADDS more info)

SEOUL/PANMUNJOM, Oct. 15 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) -- The two Koreas agreed Monday to start a joint project to modernize and eventually connect their railways and roads across their borders in late November or early December.

The agreement was reached during high-level talks at the truce village of Panmunjom led by South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and his North Korean counterpart, Ri Son-gwon.

"The South and the North will hold a ground-breaking ceremony for connecting and modernizing rail and road systems along the eastern and western regions either in late November or early December," they said in a joint press release issued after their hourslong discussion.

A detailed survey of the western railways will be carried out from late October and the railways along their eastern coast will be inspected from early November, according to the press release.

The move is a follow-up to deals their leaders made during a September summit in Pyongyang in which they agreed to expand cross-border exchanges and cooperation on various fronts. In particular, they said that a ground-breaking ceremony for the rail and road connection will be held within this year.

During Monday's talks, the two Koreas also agreed to hold Red Cross talks in November to discuss issues related to families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War and to arrange a general-level military meeting "as soon as possible" to exchange views on how to ease military tensions and form a joint military committee.

In addition, the two Koreas said that, as agreed upon by their leaders last month, they will have discussions in late October at their joint liaison office in the North's border town of Kaesong over a bid to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics and on a North Korean art troupe's performance in South Korea.

This photo provided by the joint press corps shows North Korea's chief delegate Ri Son-gwon speak at the start of high-level inter-Korean talks at the truce village of Panmunjom on Oct. 15, 2018. (Yonhap)

Those agreements came as the United States and North Korea resume denuclearization talks to rid the North of its nuclear and missile programs after months of stalemate following their first-ever summit in Singapore in June.

South Korea has been eager to expand exchanges and cooperation with the North, believing that improving inter-Korean ties could provide a much-needed impetus to denuclearization talks that have been stalled by differences between Washington and North Korea over how to rid the North of its nuclear weapons program.

The North has been demanding sanctions be lifted and asking the United States to actively work to end the 1950-53 Korean War in response to the substantive and practical steps it claims to have taken.

Washington remains firm that no sanctions relief or other major concessions will come until the North completely gives up its nuclear weapons program. Its tough position on sanctions has taken a toll on cooperation between South and North Korea.

Experts say that the United Nations Command's disapproval of the two Koreas' scheduled railway inspection in September might have been a veiled sign of Washington's discomfort.

In an apparent bid to kick-start the stalled denuclearization process, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently visited Pyongyang and agreed to hold a second meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un "at the earliest possible date."

Unification Minister Cho earlier told reporters that the timing of the high-level inter-Korean talks is critical given the ongoing diplomacy intended to denuclearize North Korea and efforts under way to improve ties between the two Koreas.

"The timing (of the meeting) is very important for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and an improvement in inter-Korean relations," he said before departing for the talks.

"As such, we will make efforts to induce good results for the implementation of the Pyongyang Declaration," he added, referring to the Moon-Kim summit agreements last month.

Ri, the North's chief delegate, echoed the view, saying that the objective of the meeting was not just to find ways to move the summit agreement forward but also to secure a major chance to bring peace, prosperity and eventually reunification to the Korean Peninsula.

The two put more emphasis on taking concrete measures to implement agreements. Cho said that they are "completely committed" to enforce what they have just agreed.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon speaks to reporters before leaving for high-level talks with North Korea at the truce village of Panmunjom on Oct. 15, 2018. (Yonhap)

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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