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North-South Korea talks in US serious, but civil

North and South Korea representatives share laughs while discussing serious business of peace By The Associated Press

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) ' North and South Korean representatives holding informal talks in the U.S. are sitting together at meals, sharing laughs and even breaking out together in song.

But long-standing disputes still cropped up Tuesday on Day 2 of the summit at the University of Georgia.

Members of the U.S. and South Korea delegations told The Associated Press the closed-door talks have been serious at times and light-hearted and respectful at other moments.

"That doesn't mean they are agreeing, but it is important," said Jim Walsh, an expert in international security and a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Security Studies Program. "In there, they're all Koreans. The Americans are the foreigners in the room."

At dinner Monday night, North and South Korean delegates sat with each other as they dined on filet mignon, pan-seared tuna and chocolate tart. At one point they stood and joined each other in song as South Korean violinist Yong-Ku Ahn played a familiar folk tune, according to several people who were present.

Walsh, who is taking part in the sessions, said he doesn't expect the North to agree to firm preconditions to resume official six-party nuclear talks. But he believes there will have to be compromise on all sides.

"I don't expect the Americans to report to the government that the U.S. should do everything North Korea wants and I don't expect South Korea to go back and tell their government that," Walsh said. "Our job is not to be diplomats, but it is because we are not diplomats that we have a little more room to move."

Representatives from the U.S. State Department and the respective foreign ministers were not participating in the sessions, but a senior North Korean ruling party official was in attendance. Others present included academics, lawmakers and former government officials from the countries.

The so-called Track II talks are aimed at formulating policy recommendations for resolving the standoff between the two Koreas.

South Korean legislator Joo-Sun Park, who also is attending the talks, told AP the civil atmosphere has allowed delegates from the three sides to feel comfortable being candid.

"The atmosphere on one hand is very serious, and on the other hand everyone is very respectful," he said.

Back home, a tense atmosphere lingers on the Korean peninsula following violence last year that claimed 50 South Korean lives.

Officials are now trying to restart nuclear negotiations that stalled when North Korea walked away from the aid-for-disarmament talks in 2009. The North has since pushed for a resumption.

Officials in the United States and South Korea have so far reacted coolly to the North's overtures, saying the North must first abide by past nuclear commitments.


Follow Harry R. Weber at

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Related Keywords:Koreas-Nuclear,Government and politics,Diplomacy,International relations


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