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N. Korea, U.S. agree on family mail exchanges

North Korea agreed three months ago to allow 10 Korean-Americans to exchange mail with their kin in the communist country, a South Korean Red Cross official said.

The U.S. Red Cross and North Korea’s U.N. diplomatic mission agreed in New York in May on the trial mail exchanges through the Red Cross and will discuss reunions of the families afterwards, the official said Saturday.

“The procedures for the reunions have not been discussed yet, however, and it hasn’t been confirmed whether they took any steps to organize the reunions,” he said.

In response to a question on whether the family reunion issue was discussed during the recent high-level talks between the U.S. and North Korea, the Red Cross official said it was “possible.”

The North’s first vice foreign minister Kim Kye-gwan met the U.S. State Department’s Special Representative on North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth and Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issue Robert King in New York last month.

A South Korean foreign ministry official said he heard nothing about whether Washington and Pyongyang discussed the family reunions during Kim’s talks with Bosworth and King.

The agreement on the first-ever reunions of Korean-Americans and their family members in the North comes amid an increase in nongovernmental exchanges between the two countries.

In the first half of this year, 139 North Koreans visited the U.S., up from 89 a year ago, Radio Free Asia reported Sunday, citing U.S. government data.

North Korea sent to the U.S. a group of scientists in February, an economic delegation in March, a national taekwondo team in early June for performances in the east and a delegation of the state-run Korean Central News Agency in mid-June to discuss with the Associated Press the opening of the U.S. news agency’s Pyongyang bureau.

The Chosun Sinbo, a newspaper published in Japan that serves as the North’s mouthpiece, said the continued exchanges between the U.S. and the North signal a normalization of bilateral relations in the near future. The CNN mentioned the 1970s “ping pong diplomacy” between China and the U.S. in its coverage of the recent North Korean taekwondo demonstration.

The North Korean visitors to the U.S. were issued B1, B2, E1 or F1 non-immigration visas for tourism, study or investment purposes, mostly valid for three months, from the State Department, the RFA reported.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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