Top South Korean envoys headed Tuesday to North Korea where they hope to discuss how to achieve a permanent peace on the divided peninsula in high-level talks this week.
A five-member South Korean delegation led by Unification Minister Chung Dong-young was to fly to North Korea's capital for four days of Cabinet-level talks. Chung's North Korean counterpart will be Kwon Ho Ung, a senior Cabinet counselor.
The latest inter-Korean dialogue coincides with international negotiations aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear program, resuming this week in Beijing after more than a month of recess.
"We will try to provide flank support for the second phase of the six-party talks," Chung told reporters before leaving for the airport.
On Monday, Chung met the chief U.S. nuclear negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who visited Seoul for a strategy session on the eve of the nuclear meeting in Beijing.
The inter-Korean meetings _ the 16th since a historic inter-Korean summit in 2000 _ have so far focused on economic and humanitarian projects with little discussion of political issues, such as reducing military tension across their heavily fortified border.
South Korea hopes to shift the focus to political issues this time.
"This round of Cabinet-level talks should be the starting point of discussions on the issue of peace on the Korean Peninsula," Unification Ministry official Kim Chun-sig told reporters Monday. "Inter-Korean cooperation needs to be expanded from economic and social areas to political and military sectors."
On Tuesday, Chung said negotiations on establishing peace on the divided peninsula would be a long process, and that he doesn't anticipate any breakthrough this week.
The two sides were to start meeting Tuesday evening with a dinner hosted by the North's prime minister, Pak Pong Ju.
The Cabinet-level talks are the highest dialogue channel between the two Koreas.
The two Koreas are still technically at war following the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, although exchanges between the two sides have boomed since the 2000 summit of their leaders, AP reported.