SEOUL: North and South Korea agreed on Thursday to restart high-level talks, paving the way for food aid to resume after this week’s breakthrough energy-for-disarmament deal with Pyongyang.
Officials from the two Koreas, which are technically still at war, agreed to hold ministerial talks in Pyongyang from 27 February.
Talks were frozen and the South suspended food and fertiliser aid to its impoverished neighbour in the wake of Pyongyang’s defiant missile and nuclear tests last year.
The rapprochement follows Tuesday’s six-country agreement in Beijing on dismantling the communist state’s nuclear arms programme, which could also bring a thaw between old foes Washington and Pyongyang.
Despite the agreement that many said eased tension in one of the region’s most pressing security concerns, North Korea charged the United States with trying to topple it.
“We are sharply watching with heightened vigilance the moves of the United States which is resorting to hare-brained artifices to cry down the authority and dignity of the DPRK (North Korea) and stifle it economically,” its KCNA news agency cited a Communist party official as saying.
A South Korean news report said nuclear negotiators Kim Kye-gwan of North Korea and the U.S. State Department’s Christopher Hill would visit each other’s capital soon.
The European Union is considering sending a delegation to North Korea to show support for the nuclear deal, Germany said.
The agreement struck by the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia requires the secretive state to shutter its Yongbyon reactor within 60 days in exchange for 50,000 tonnes of fuel oil or equivalent aid.
After the 60-day period, energy-hungry North Korea would receive another 950,000 tonnes of fuel oil, or equivalent aid, when it takes further steps to disable its nuclear capabilities.
CRITICS “FLAT WRONG”
The agreement also included provisions for the United States and Japan to discuss normalising ties with North Korea, and said Washington would begin the process of removing Pyongyang from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
“It offers North Korea the path to coming out of its shell ... that all starts with denuclearisation,” the United States’ ambassador to Seoul, Alexander Vershbow, told a business lunch.
U.S. President George W. Bush said on Wednesday that critics of the deal -- which came after more than three years of halting negotiation and a nuclear test by Pyongyang last October -- were “flat wrong”.
John Bolton, his former ambassador to the United Nations, has criticised the accord for taking pressure off North Korea in exchange for only partially dismantling its nuclear programme.
“Now, those who say the North Koreans have got to prove themselves by actually following through on the deal are right and I’m one,” Bush said.
Bush, who had previously bracketed North Korea with Iran and pre-war Iraq in an “axis of evil”, recognised that the agreement was only a first step.
Ministerial-level talks between North and South Korea --which have spurred economic cooperation, handouts from Seoul to Pyongyang and better relations -- broke down in acrimony last July after North Korea defied warnings and test-fired missiles.
South Korea suspended its shipments of food and fertiliser to the North after the missile launches but said it could resume the aid, which typically includes a yearly 500,000 tonnes of rice, if the separate nuclear talks made progress.