( AP ) - South Korea on Friday refused to fully resume aid shipments to North Korea until the communist regime follows through on its agreement with the U.S. and four other countries to start scrapping its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea reluctantly agreed to put off the aid issue until late April, after the deadline for the communist regime to shut down its main nuclear reactor under the Feb. 13 disarmament deal. Previously, the North demanded more talks this month.
The nuclear pact cleared the way for this week's negotiations between the two Koreas, the first high-level talks in months. Aid was the key sticking point, delaying Friday's closing session by five hours.
South Korea, one of the North's main aid sources, halted rice and fertilizer shipments after the North test-fired a barrage of missiles last July. North Korea's Oct. 9 underground nuclear test further strained relations.
The provocations were the most serious challenge yet to South Korea's "sunshine" policy of engagement with its longtime foe. The policy has been criticized as helping to prop up the North's totalitarian regime without requiring reforms or disarmament.
In a joint statement concluding their talks, the two Koreas "agreed to make joint efforts for a smooth implementation" of the nuclear agreement. They said they had set up an economic conference meeting in late April to discuss restoring aid to the North.
The South's chief negotiator, Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung, said the date reflects his hope that "everything will go smoothly," apparently referring to the North's commitment to shutting down its main nuclear reactor.
Though South Korea wants to see progress on disarmament before it restores aid, Lee said Seoul is willing in principle to resume rice and fertilizer shipments to the North. He also indicated that Seoul may provide fertilizer before the North fulfills its nuclear obligations.
"Spring is early this year. I think the timing may be moved up," Lee told reporters, saying fertilizer should be provided in time for the North to use it during planting season.
The two Koreas also agreed to conduct a long-delayed trial run of trains on rebuilt tracks through their heavily armed border in the first half of the year. The North called off plans for a test last year after its military said appropriate security arrangements had not been made.
As expected, the North and South also agreed Friday to resume reunions of families divided by the border, with meetings via a video link set for this month and face-to-face encounters in May. The North put the reunions on hold last year after the South suspended aid.
Meanwhile, South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon was to discuss North Korea Friday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington and with President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley.
The Feb. 13 accord calls for the North to close its main nuclear reactor within 60 days, in exchange for aid. A much larger shipment of aid - about $250 million worth - would follow once the North had declared all its nuclear programs and begun to disable them.
As part of the nuclear agreement, on Monday and Tuesday in New York, the lead U.S. envoy at the nuclear talks, Christopher Hill, and his North Korean negotiating counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, are to discuss first steps toward establishing normal ties after decades of hostility that followed the 1950-53 Korean War.
On Thursday, the North's No 2 leader, Kim Yong Nam, called for the two Koreas to work together to reunify the peninsula, which was divided after World War II and remains officially at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.