North Korea says 'yes' to fresh talks on factory zone
Unification Ministry proposes discussions be held tomorrow at Panmunjom truce village over revival of factories at industrial complex
North Korea and South Korea agreed yesterday to hold talks aimed at reopening a jointly run factory park that was a rare source of cash for Pyongyang three weeks after their last attempt at dialogue collapsed in bickering over protocol.
North Korea accepted the South's proposal, made by its Unification Ministry, paving the way for talks tomorrow at the Panmunjom village that straddles their heavily guarded border.
"The North agreed to working-level talks at [10am] on July 6 … at Panmunjom," the Unification Ministry said.
The two sides used a phone hotline restored by the North late on Wednesday amid pressure from the owners of small and medium-sized South Korean firms in the Kaesong industrial zone. The companies had sought action to stem losses caused by the shutdown that occurred in April.
"The proposal takes into account the big problems facing the Kaesong industrial zone's firms three months after it was suspended and the potential damage anticipated with the start of the monsoon season," ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said.
A sudden flurry of activity last month raised expectations that the two Koreas, which remain technically at war under a truce ending the 1950-53 war, would resume high-level dialogue for the first time in six years to ease tension.
The North had proposed talks to reopen the factory zone, which generates US$90 million annually in wages for its workers. It shut the zone down in April at the height of weeks of tension during which Pyongyang threatened both South Korea and the US with nuclear annihilation.
The owners of 123 South Korean factories, who had withdrawn from Kaesong after their North Korean workers deserted them, have been eager to return. Their hopes rose, then were dashed after the two governments agreed to hold senior-level talks in Seoul on June 12, but cancelled them in a last-minute dispute over who should lead their delegations.
The North, which has vastly inferior conventional military power compared to the affluent South, has for years channelled scarce resources into nuclear and missile programmes, and has issued such threats often for propaganda purposes.
Proposed cabinet-level talks last month were called off one day before they were due to start, with each side accusing the other of insincerity by planning to send low-ranking officials.
The US and South Korea, as well as China - the North's sole major diplomatic ally - have urged Pyongyang to take steps to end its nuclear programme and to return to dialogue.
The impoverished and isolated North conducted its third nuclear test in February, prompting stiffer UN sanctions against it.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has pledged to engage the North in dialogue and take steps to build confidence for better ties, but has also vowed not to give in to unreasonable demands or make concessions to achieve superficial progress.
Her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, cut off a decade of lucrative aid from liberal leaders and demanded nuclear disarmament, angering the North.
Additional reporting by The New York Times