Seoul: North and South Korea on Thursday agreed to hold talks on reopening a jointly run factory complex and possibly other issues, after months of deteriorating relations and a day before a US-China summit in which the North is expected to be a key topic.
The envisioned talks could help rebuild avenues of inter-Korean cooperation that were obliterated in recent years amid hardline stances by both countries, though the key issue isolating the North from the world community its nuclear program is not up for debate.
The North`s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, in a statement carried by state media, said it is open to holding talks with Seoul on reopening the Kaesong complex just north of the Demilitarized Zone separating the countries.
South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk expressed hope that the talks could become an opportunity for the two Koreas to start building trust. He said Seoul will announce the time and agenda for the talks later, but didn`t elaborate.
The decade-old Kaesong complex, the product of an era of inter-Korean cooperation, shut down gradually this spring after Pyongyang cut border communications and access, then pulled the complex`s 53,000 North Korean workers. The last of hundreds of South Korean managers at Kaesong left last month.
The statement by the committee, which handles relations with Seoul, was the North`s first public response to Seoul`s proposal in April to hold government-level talks to discuss the factory complex.
More than 120 South Korean companies had operations at Kaesong, which gave them access to cheap North Korean labor.
It was also a rare source of hard currency for North Korea, though the economically depressed country chafed at suggestions that it needed the money Kaesong generated.
Smiling broadly, Han Jae-kwon, chief of the association of South Korean factories in Kaesong, told reporters that he welcomes the agreement. "We are having hope that the Kaesong factory park will be revived," he said.
The North`s statement today proposed talks not only about Kaesong but about other defunct inter-Korean endeavors such as cross-border tours and reunions between North Korean and South Korean family members.
Pyongyang also said it could restore its Red Cross communication line with South Korea in their truce village if Seoul agrees to talks. It allowed Seoul to set the date and venue for the dialogue "to the convenience of the south side."
The talks will be the first government-level negotiations between the two Koreas since South Korean President Park Geun-hye took office earlier this year with a North Korea policy dubbed "trustpolitik." She has outlined her intention to reach out to the foes to build trust while remaining firm on intolerance to provocations.