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N-Korea offers low-level talks

North Korea has proposed working-level talks with the South as the rivals move to mend ties that have plunged during recent years amid hardline stances by both countries.

In another sign of easing tensions before the proposed meeting, to be held in a border city on Sunday, Pyongyang said it would reopen a Red Cross communication line with South Korea in their truce village.

The North shut the communication line in March during a tense period marked by North Korean threats of war and South Korean counter-threats.

The statement by an unidentified spokesman for the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which handles relations with Seoul, followed the countries' agreement on Thursday to hold talks on reopening a jointly run factory complex and possibly other issues.

The easing tension also comes ahead of a summit by the leaders of China and the United States in which the North is expected to be a key topic.

South Korea proposed government-level talks in April about the factory complex and suggested holding ministerial talks in Seoul next Wednesday. But the North Korean statement said working-level talks were needed before any higher-level meetings "in the light of the prevailing situation in which the bilateral relations have been stalemated for years and mistrust has reached the extremity".

The talks proposed by Pyongyang, which would be held in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, could help ease tensions, but the topic of ridding the North of its nuclear weapons programme is not up for debate.

A key issue is finding a way to reopen the factory complex in Kaesong, which is just north of the Demilitarised Zone separating the countries. The decade-old Kaesong complex, the product of an era of inter-Korean cooperation, shut down gradually after Pyongyang cut border communications and access, then pulled the complex's 53,000 North Korean workers. The last South Korean managers at Kaesong left last month.

Officials in Seoul said it was not yet clear what the proposed talks on Sunday would focus on if they happen. Such meetings in the past have involved lower-level officials charged with ironing out administrative details and reporting back to their bosses. The next step would be higher-level talks.

The last government-level contact between the Koreas on their peninsula took place in February 2011 at the truce village of Panmunjom, according to the South's Unification Ministry, which deals with North Korea issues.


From Belfast Telegraph