Two Koreas to Discuss Restoring Economic Ties

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SEOUL, South Korea -- North and South Korea agreed Monday to hold high-level government talks later this week to discuss reversing not only the recent suspension of their joint operation of an industrial complex in a Northern border town, but also other economic and humanitarian projects that faltered years ago amid tensions built by North Korean nuclear tests, international sanctions and threats of war.

The agreement was struck between delegates from the two Koreas after 17 hours of negotiations at the "truce village" of Panmunjom straddling the inter-Korean border, where the 1953 armistice ending the three-year Korean War was signed. The high-level dialogue, which the two sides agreed to hold in Seoul on Wednesday and Thursday, will be the first senior government talks on the divided Korean Peninsula in six years.

The agreement was a clear sign that North and South Korea were easing tensions and moving toward a thaw after years of recriminations that hit a peak earlier this year, after the North's third nuclear test prompted broad international sanctions, goading the North into a frenzy of threats against the South and its ally, the United States.

Last week, North Korea made a surprise overture proposing government-to-government dialogue with the South. South Korea quickly accepted, offering to hold cabinet minister-level talks in Seoul on Wednesday. Their delegates met at Panmunjom on Sunday in a meeting that stretched into early Monday as they haggled over the agenda.

They eventually agreed that the talks should include the possibility of reopening the industrial park at Kaesong, and restarting cross-border tours and Red Cross programs that arrange reunions of families separated by the Korean War. All three projects, introduced during a period of inter-Korean rapprochement between 1998 and 2008, were suspended as relations deteriorated in the past few years.

Cross-border tours were canceled in 2008 after North Korean soldiers shot and killed a South Korean tourist and the North then rejected South Korean demands for a joint investigation and measures to prevent similar episodes. The two Koreas held their last reunion of separated families in 2010.

The joint industrial zone in Kaesong, a North Korean border town, had been the last symbol of cooperation until the North suddenly pulled out its 53,000 workers, blaming military tensions, and left South Korean factory owners at a loss to meet orders.

In the upcoming high-level talks, the most contentious question will be the conditions imposed on any of the suspended projects before they can be reopened. President Park Geun-hye of South Korea has repeatedly said her government is determined to end a "vicious cycle" in which the South appeases the North after its provocations. And her aides have said that the South would not revive the projects "as if nothing had happened" and that the North must take steps to ensure that it would not sacrifice economic projects for political ends.

They have also said that South Korean efforts to engage the North would be limited until the stalemate is broken over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Before starting the talks on Sunday, Chun Hae-sung, the chief South Korean delegate, reiterated that the North and South could move toward greater economic cooperation and political reconciliation when they "start building trust on small things first."

But during the border talks, North Korea called for more expansive exchanges with the South, causing a prolonged haggling over the agenda of upcoming high-level talks in Seoul.

In the end, they agreed not to nail down the agenda. The South announced that the Seoul meeting would only discuss the reopening of the three economic and humanitarian projects. But in its own announcement, North Korea said that the agenda would also include discussions on increasing civilian exchanges and other cooperative projects between the two Koreas. It also wanted to discuss a possible joint celebration of the anniversary of the 2000 inter-Korean summit meeting agreement that called for large South Korean investments in the North.

That deal has been suspended since 2008, when conservatives came to power in Seoul and insisted that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons first if it wanted South Korean largess to continue.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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