Koreas could conduct research into sacred volcano

AP News
Posted: Mar 22, 2011 7:05 AM
Koreas could conduct research into sacred volcano

Scientists from South and North Korea could conduct joint research into an active volcano extolled in the North as the sacred birthplace of Kim Jong Il.

Seoul agreed Tuesday to discuss the project with the North, conversations that could spark a rare bit of cooperation between the rivals on the divided Korean peninsula.

North Korea proposed last week that volcanologists from the two countries talk about conducting studies and field surveys of Mount Paektu just as renewed attention was trained on natural disasters following Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami. The volcano last erupted in 1903, but minor quakes increased there between 2002 and 2005, South Korean officials say.

South Korea replied to the offer by proposing that private experts of the two Koreas meet first and discuss the issue at a South Korean border village on March 29, the South's Unification Ministry said.

"In the message, we said we agree on the need to cooperate," the ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

North Korea hasn't immediately responded to South Korea's offer, ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.

The North's offer comes as talks have stalled on other issues, notably nuclear disarmanent-for-aid discussions involving six nations. South Korea and U.S. officials say that North Korea must fulfill past nuclear disarmament commitments before the nuclear talks can resume.

The proposed talks among volcano experts will likely lead to government-level talks and could work as a "lubricant" to smooth strained inter-Korean ties, said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University.

Paektu is considered sacred by the North and touted as one of the peninsula's most beautiful sites. North Korean lore calls it the birthplace of absolute leader Kim Jong Il, though Western experts say he was born in the then-Soviet Union.

Official portraits of Kim Jong Il and his late father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, often show them standing in front of Paektu.

The mountain, spelled Baekdu by the South Koreans, sits on the North Korea-China border.