South and North Korea Tuesday reached an agreement to make an on-site survey of Mt. Baekdu in mid-June after holding expert-led talks on the risk of a potential volcanic eruption at the mountain in May in Pyongyang or a convenient location, officials said.
Earlier in the day, experts from South and North Korea held the second round of volcano talks in Gaesong, the North's industrial city near the inter-Korean border, to discuss ways to deal with volcanic threats at Mt. Baekdu sitting on the North's border with China.
They will decide on the details of the planned talks and the field investigation on Mt. Baekdu via their follow-up consultations.
Both sides held the first meeting of its kind on March 29 in the South Korean border city of Munsan at the request of the North amid rising concerns over natural disasters in the wake of a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
The mountain, the highest on the Korean Peninsula, is highly symbolic for the people of both countries. Pyongyang dubs it as the birthplace of its omnipotent leader, Kim Jong-il, while the 2,750-meter-high peak is mentioned in the national anthem of the South.
Before departing for Gaesong, Yoon Yong-geun, a geologist leading the South Korean delegation, expressed hope in a meeting with reporters that the upcoming discussions would lead to "a deeper understanding" of volcanic activities at the mountain as the first meeting had only confirmed the need for such joint research.
The series of meetings over the mountain comes after colonel-level military talks between the Koreas in February failed to ease military tensions, which have deepened since the North bombarded a western South Korean island last November. Two marines and two civilians were killed in the attack.
The North is also charged with torpedoing a South Korean warship in the Yellow Sea in March last year, killing 46 sailors.
Seoul has since dismissed offers by the North to hold high-level dialogue, suspecting the communist state is angling for aid, while demanding that Pyongyang issue apologies first.
Seoul has discounted the political significance of the talks on the volcano, providing minimum logistics support in contrast with the North, which has included Cabinet officials among its representatives.
The talks between the two sides come amid diplomatic efforts to jump-start the stalled six-party negotiations designed to denuclearize North Korea through aid and other incentives.
China and the United States, two key members of the negotiations, have called on the Koreas to improve their ties first to pave the way for the resumption of the talks, which also group Russia and Japan.
Mt. Baekdu has been dormant since its last eruption in 1903, but experts have warned that it may still have an active core, citing topographical signs and satellite images.
The concerns further rose after a magnitude-7.3 earthquake hit northeastern China in 2002. Some even argue North Korea's nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 have stimulated the core. (Yonhap News)