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North and South Korea agree to talk

North proposes first official dialogue in five years

North and South Korea agree to talk

South Korean military trucks near the Kaesong Industrial Complex (AFP/Jung Yeon-je)

Stephen Hong, Seoul

June 6, 2013

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South Korea today accepted an invitation of dialogue from the North, suggesting that the recent war of words between the two countries may come to an end.

North Korea made the invitation earlier today which was immediately accepted, the South’s Ministry of Unification said in a statement, paving the way for the first official dialogue in five years.

“Our position has been consistent for promoting reconciliation and solidarity of the nation and achieving reunification and peaceful prosperity," said a statement from the North’s Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland. “The South’s authorities should not miss this opportunity if they really want to build trust and improve North-South relations.”

North Korea proposed discussions on reopening the suspended Kaesong Industrial Zone just north of the Demilitarized Zone, a joint project which has become a symbol of North-South cooperation in recent years.

The North unilaterally closed the facility in April amid threats of nuclear strikes against the South and the US after the two allies ratcheted up sanctions against the regime.

“We hope the government-to-government talks will become an opportunity to build trust between the South and North,” the South’s Unification Ministry said in a statement.

The two Koreas have not held official talks since 2008 when a tourist from the South was shot by a soldier in the North, prompting Seoul to retaliate by suspending tours to a mountain resort there.

North Korea yesterday proposed resuming cross-border tours suspended since that time, as well as restarting Red Cross programs in which aging Korean families trapped on both sides of the DMZ hold reunions.

The South’s Reunification Ministry called the proposals a “positive” sign.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul, said that Pyongyang had apparently steered away from military action for the time being by making the gesture.

“The North’s offer for official talks can be seen as its desire to solve the problems of the two Koreas’ through dialogue,” he said.

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