South Korea media: North agrees to hold talks Sunday
SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) — North Korea has agreed to meet Sunday for talks that will focus on reopening its shared industrial complex with South Korea and other issues, the latter’s national news agency reported Saturday.
The talks are another sign of improvement in the severely strained relations between the two Koreas.
Pyongyang on Friday reconnected a hotline between the two sides that it had severed amid recent tensions.
North Korea set off months of tensions with a long-range rocket launch in December followed by an underground nuclear test in February.
The North broke the impasse between the two sides over the Kaesong Industrial Zone — a major symbol of cooperation between the two countries where Pyongyang halted activity in April — by issuing a proposal on Thursday for talks.
It said that “the venue of the talks and the date for their opening can be set to the convenience of the south side.”
South Korea reacted quickly and positively to the offer, noting that it had been “continuously” seeking talks on Kaesong since the North shut it down. The South’s unification minister, Ryoo Kihl-jae, suggested the two sides hold ministerial-level talks in Seoul on Wednesday.
The North expressed appreciation for the South’s response Friday, and said “working contact” between the two governments is necessary before ministerial talks. It proposed that the lower-level meeting take place in Kaesong on Sunday.
It also reopened the Red Cross hotline in the border area of Panmunjom, an important line of communication between the two sides that it had cut off as tensions flared earlier this year.
The South Korean Unification Ministry said later Friday that it had sent a fax through the hotline agreeing to the working-level talks but asking that they take place in Panmunjom rather than Kaesong.
The working-level talks will be held at Panmunjom on Sunday, South Korea’s national news agency, Yonhap reported.
The shuttered Kaesong complex is one of the main casualties of the recent threats and provocative moves by North Korea.
In April, Kim Jong Un’s regime began blocking South Koreans from entering the manufacturing complex, which sits on the North’s side of the heavily fortified border and houses the operations of more than 120 South Korean companies.
Pyongyang then pulled out the more than 50,000 North Koreans who work in the zone’s factories, saying it was temporarily suspending activity there. The last South Koreans in the zone left last month.
The North Korean decision to halt operations surprised some observers, since Kaesong was considered an important source of hard currency for Kim Jong Un’s regime.