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Koreas to hold top-level talks

North and South Korea are to hold senior-level talks this week in Seoul, in a breakthrough of sorts to ease tensions after Pyongyang's recent threats of nuclear war and Seoul's vows of counter-strikes.

The two-day meeting starting on Wednesday will focus on stalled co-operation projects, including the resumption of operations at a jointly-run factory park near the border in North Korea.

The factory was the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement until Pyongyang pulled out its workers in April during heightened tensions that followed its February nuclear test.

The details of the forthcoming talks were ironed out in a nearly 17-hour negotiating session by lower-level officials. Those discussions began yesterday in the countries' first government-level meeting on the Korean Peninsula in more than two years.

It took place at the village of Panmunjom on their heavily-armed border, where the armistice ending the three-year Korean War was signed 60 years ago next month. That truce has never been replaced with a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula technically at war.

The agreement to hold the talks was announced in a statement by South Korea's Unification Ministry. North Korea's official news agency, KCNA, also reported the agreement.

Dialogue at any level marks an improvement in the countries' abysmal ties. The last several years have seen North Korean nuclear tests, long-range rocket launches and attacks blamed on the North that killed 50 South Koreans in 2010.

Wednesday's meeting will also include discussions on resuming South Korean tours to a North Korean mountain resort, the reunion of separated families and other humanitarian issues, officials said.

The issue most crucial to Washington, however - a push to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons - is not on the agenda.

While there was broad agreement, the Unification Ministry said sticking points arose over the delegation heads and the agenda. Seoul will send its top official for inter-Korean affairs while Pyongyang said it would send a senior-level government official, without elaborating.

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