SEOUL — THE first session of the first high-level talks between North and South Korea ended yesterday with small first steps toward ending a 45-year Cold War conflict. Among many ``firsts'' that could help bring these well-armed enemies closer together were agreements to:
Discuss a North Korean proposal on seeking a single seat for both Koreas at the United Nations (neither side is represented in the General Assembly now).
Ask each nation's Red Cross to resume talks on humanitarian issues, which includes possible exchanges between divided families.
Prepare for a second round of talks between the nation's two prime ministers in six weeks.
In conceding these points to each other - beyond the fact of the two sides formally presenting their positions - both nations at the least achieved the appearance of trying to be in step with a global easing of tension between East and West.
Serious discussion on how to unify their divided peninsula was not possible, given the deep animosity and mistrust between the communist north and capitalist south.
Still, South Korean officials were glad to have finally engaged the North in what they hope will be a sustained dialogue.
``From this point on, South Korea can consider North Korea's proposals in earnest. Before, it was just through propaganda broadcasts,'' says Shin Hyun Gook, spokesman for South Korean President Roh Tae Woo.
The three days of talks, held in a modern hotel in Seoul, came as South Korea is enjoying more and more contacts with the fast-changing communist world, especially the Soviet Union.
In fact, the Soviets appeared to be using their leverage over North Korea to get it to the negotiating table. ``We can afford to be generous to the North,'' says Shin Hyun Gook.
That generosity was most evident in the South's agreement to suspend its goal of a separate UN seat for itself - which was becoming more possible - and take up the North's single-seat idea.
North Korean Prime Minister Yon Hyong Muk had made the UN issue a top priority for the talks, even hinting that lack of progress on this point might end the negotiations.
The South, meanwhile, laid out an eight-point plan that focuses on nonmilitary issues first, such as building trust through family exchanges.
But the North's eight-man delegation would not even address their counterparts by their official titles. And the North insisted the mutual distrust derives from the South's ``threatening'' military program to buy F-18 fighter jets and its reliance on United States forces.
The talks were capped off with a short visit by the North's officials with President Roh, who asked for a summit soon between himself and North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.
The two prime ministers are scheduled to meet again in the North Korean capital on Oct. 16.
In the meantime, a working committee will discuss the UN issue.