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S. KOREA HOPEFUL ABOUT COMPROMISE

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South Korea welcomes a compromise between its rival North Korea and the United States that eases a confrontation over North Korea's suspected nuclear sites.

The agreement was reached Monday after talks in Geneva. North Korea continues to reject inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but it promised to begin consultations with the agency to resolve outstanding prob-lems.In return, the United States said it would consider helping North Korea's hard-line Communist government convert its nuclear power reactors to types that are less capable of producing weapons-grade material.

Identical statements issued after three days of closed-door meetings in Geneva said both sides would also seek to improve strained relations.

South Korea, which still maintains a tense border with its northern neighbor 40 years after the end of the Korean War, hailed the agreement "as an important step forward."

A Foreign Ministry statement Tuesday said South Korea especially welcomed the North's promise to reopen an inter-Korea dialogue. Kang Sok Ju, head of the North Korean delegation at the Geneva talks, urged "the earliest possible meeting" of envoys representing the two presidents.

South Korea and Japan have felt especially threatened by the prospect of a North Korean nuclear arsenal.

Tension increased earlier this year when North Korea threatened to pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Its adoption of the treaty the previous year had been regarded as a major step toward reducing tensions.

North Korea backed away from the threat after talks last month in New York. But it continued to ban the IAEA from inspecting two buildings believed to house nuclear waste. North Korea claims they contain only conventional military secrets.

The disputed sites are at a facility at Yongbyon, 60 miles north of the capital Pyongyang.

South Korean officials expressed hope that the agreement might open the way for bilateral inspections.

Under a 1992 bilateral agreement, the two are required to conduct the inspections but none have been made because of disagreements over the guidelines.

North Korea cut off dialogue with South Korea last December.