September 16, 2011 / 6:53 AM / 6 years ago

Koreas sound out orchestral maneuvers, but are strings attached?

<p>North Korean soldiers talk as they patrol at the truce village of the Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul September 14, 2011. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won</p>

SEOUL (Reuters) - Bitter rivals South and North Korea could come together later this year to stage combined orchestral performances in the two capitals, a renowned conductor said on Friday, amid signs of improving relations on the divided peninsula.

On the diplomatic front, South Korean media reported on Friday the neighbors had also agreed to a second round of negotiations on restarting stalled regional talks on disabling the North’s nuclear weapons program.

The meeting of the two sides’ nuclear envoys in Beijing next week comes after they met in July for the first time in over two years. In another conciliatory gesture, Seoul this month sent humanitarian aid to the isolated North to help it deal with flood damage.

Chung Myung-whun, the director of Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, told reporters after a four-day trip to North Korea that an agreement had been reached to try to push for regular joint performances of the two Koreas’ symphony orchestras.

“We reached an agreement to hold a joint concert in Pyongyang and Seoul at around December,” he said. “The rest is up to the politicians which I have no say or control over, but hopefully our plan will be realised.”

A government official in Seoul said the matter had yet to be discussed. South Koreans must get state approval to travel to secretive North Korea.

Chung, 59, said he worked closely with local musicians while in the North’s capital, conducting rehearsals and auditions as well as meeting officials from the cultural bureau.

”I don’t realistically hope that this might bring any changes to the North Korean system, though I did make some genuine, individual connections through our shared love for music.

“We’ll see where that takes us from here in terms of progress, but as musicians, politics plays no part in what we do.”

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Relations between the neighbors, still technically at war after signing only an armistice to end their 1950-53 civil conflict, have improved this year after they had been damaged by the killing of 50 South Koreans in two separate attacks on the peninsula last year.

Under pressure from their main allies in Washington and Beijing to iron out their differences, the two Koreas have taken tentative steps toward restarting six-party aid-for-denuclearisation talks, also involving the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

A week after the two Koreas’ nuclear envoys met in July, a top North Korean diplomat travelled to New York for talks with U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth.

Seoul and Washington described the talks as “constructive.”

Yonhap news agency quoted a senior diplomat as saying that that the South’s nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lac, would have a second meeting with his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong-ho, in Beijing in the middle of next week.

Pyongyang has said it is willing to return to six-party talks without preconditions, but Seoul and Washington demand that the North must first halt its uranium enrichment program and allow the return of international nuclear inspectors.

The North, which analysts say will never give up its nuclear weapons program, walked out of the six-party talks over two years ago after the United Nations imposed new round sanctions for conducting nuclear and missile tests.

Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Nick Macfie

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