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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Korean Talks to Tackle DMZ Railroad

SEOUL, South Korea -- North and South Korea set out their stalls but did not trade on Monday during an initial round of high-level talks being closely watched by the United States and other regional players in diplomacy on the divided peninsula.

The talks are significant because they are part of a broader pattern of inter-Korean meetings and dialogue that embraces two other rivals of the North -- Japan and the United States.

They also come after Pyongyang has introduced tentative economic changes to its creaking communist system and months before a December presidential election in the South. Many South Koreans are fed up with talks that produce rhetoric, not results.

After a two-hour delay over timetable differences, the two delegations met for just over an hour and went over the agenda, a South Korean Unification Ministry official told reporters.

"The atmosphere was not bad because it was the first day," said senior ministry official Rhee Bong-jo. Talks are expected to focus on economic cooperation, military ties and family reunions.

North Korean delegation chief Kim Ryong-song chose a carefully phrased metaphor, saying before the meeting began: "The train of high-level North-South talks that was temporarily halted has been set in motion again."

The negotiations were scheduled to resume Tuesday and are expected to focus on restarting a project to complete a railroad line by the end of the year through the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, that has bisected the peninsula since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The South has completed its rail and road work right up to the edge of the DMZ, but the North has done little. The stretch in the DMZ needs close military cooperation because of mines.

The teams and guests dined together Monday at the hotel in central Seoul where the talks are being held. The delegation chiefs exchanged banter about World Cup soccer before the talks.

"When South-North relations improve and a single team is formed, we could become the world's best in all sports," South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun told the North's Kim in opening remarks in front of reporters.

The countries' five-member delegations vowed earlier Monday to seek tangible results in the talks. The South said the pressure was on because the United States and others would take their cue from the outcome.

"Promises were made, but haven't been realized," Jeong told the North Korean chief delegate when the team arrived. "Our representatives, including me, come here with heavy hearts."

A small group of protesters demonstrated outside the hotel, urging the South to raise the question of some 480 South Koreans, mostly fishermen, whom Seoul says have been kidnapped by the North over the years. The North denies this. The agreements from the 2000 summit have largely languished because North-South and North-U.S. ties have deteriorated.