Roiled by economic collapse, then floods and now drought, North Korea sat down for the first time on Tuesday with South Korea, the United States and China to discuss arranging peace talks to formally end the Korean War and ease tensions on the peninsula.
The meeting, a preparatory session for “four party” talks proposed by President Clinton and President Kim Young-sam of South Korea more than a year ago, ended on Tuesday with no immediate agreements, although none was expected.
But North Korea’s willingness to move ahead with the talks was seen in part by administration officials as a sign of its desperation in the wake of increasingly severe food shortages, which relief officials are now comparing to the famines in Ethiopia and Somalia. Tuesday’s meeting was the first of what are expected to be several days of meetings at Columbia University between delegations for each of the four countries, the principal antagonists of the Korean War. The point is to set a time, place and agenda for the “four party” talks, which are expected to last for months.
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