North Koreans request meeting with U.S. generals

Surprising step continues diplomatic offensive


SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea intensified its diplomatic offensive yesterday, surprising the American command here with a request for the first meeting in 20 months between North Korean and American generals, to talk about the Yellow Sea skirmish June 29 between North and South Korea.

At the same time, a team of South Korean officials left for the North Korean resort at the base of Mount Kumkang, on the east coast just north of the demilitarized zone that has divided the two Koreas since the Korean War.

They plan to spend today and tomorrow in negotiations with North Korean delegates on an agenda for Cabinet-level talks, which will likely take place around Aug. 15, the date on which the Korean Peninsula was liberated after 35 years of Japanese rule.

South and North Korean ministers have not met for formal talks since September.

South Korea responded this week to the North Korean proposal to reopen talks, the first move toward the Cabinet-level negotiations that South Korean officials hope will finally lead to resumption of the tortuous process of reconciliation.

The flurry of diplomatic moves seemed to reflect a revived desire on the part of the North to resume dialogues with the United States and South Korea, which have been stalled since the final weeks of the Clinton presidency.

North Korea asked for the meeting between the generals after broadcasting a lengthy declaration demanding a thorough revision of the line on maps of the Yellow Sea south of which North Korean ships, including fishing boats, are banned by the South Korea and the United States.

The North Korean request for talks at Panmunjom, under the terms of the truce that was signed there in July 1953 ending the Korean War, appeared to be a dividend of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's 15-minute meeting Wednesday in Brunei with the North Korean foreign minister, Paek Nam Sun.

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