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North and South Korean officials meet for highest-level talks in years

High-level officials from North and South Korea are meeting for talks at a town on the border between the two countries. The officials on hand are the highest-ranking in years to participate in such a meeting.

There was no word on the agenda of Wednesday's meeting between officials between the two Koreas, but word from Seoul is the meeting was requested by North Korea.

It comes ahead of a planned reunion scheduled for later this month of North and South Korean families who have been separated from each other due to the technical state of war that has existed between the two countries for over 60 years.

Although the talks in the village of Panmunjom on the border do represent a thaw in the frosty and at times hostile tensions that have plagued the two neighbors on the Korean peninsula, there are still points of contention between North and South Korea.

One is the South's relationship with the United States. The two countries have scheduled a series of joint-military drills in two weeks time, which North Korea views as a direct military threat.

South Korea, on the other hand, sees North Korean action toward nuclear disarmament as the first real step in any kind of change in the dynamic of their relationship.

The highest-ranking South Korean official at the meeting is Kim Kyou-hyun, a national security official at the vice-ministerial level from the presidential Blue House. For the North, the delegation is led by Won Tong Yon, a senior official from the ruling Workers Party. The last meeting of this kind between high-level officials took place in 2007.

North Korea may also be seeking to resume a lucrative tourism exchange with South Korea, which gave the country an economic boost. The South scrapped this program in 2008 after a tourist was shot by a North Korean soldier, but has indicated its willingness to reconsider the program based on how the relatives' reunion goes later this month.

mz/jm (AP, AFP)

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