Talks on Korean Factory Complex to Continue

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SEOUL, South Korea -- A third round of talks on Monday between North and South Korea failed to produce an agreement on reopening the jointly operated Kaesong industrial park in the North, a symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation that has been shuttered for more than three months.

The two sides will meet in Kaesong again on Wednesday, said Kim Ki-woong, the chief South Korean negotiator.

The factory park, near the North Korean border, was idled in early April, when North Korea withdrew all of its 53,000 workers, blaming tensions it said were caused by American-South Korean military drills. The South later pulled out all of its workers, most of them factory managers.

Both sides agree that whether they can strike a deal on reopening the factory park will have far-reaching implications for broader relations between the Koreas, which soured this year as the two sides exchanged threats of attack and counterattack. In the two earlier rounds of talks this month, they differed widely on conditions for resuming operations, a gap they failed to narrow on Monday.

South Korea demands that the North take responsibility for the damage caused by the closing of the industrial zone and that it take steps to ensure that nothing similar happens again. The North bristles at those demands, blaming the South Korean government for the closing of the complex and accusing it of abusing inter-Korean dialogue to escalate tensions.

Since Wednesday, the North, which wants the complex to reopen soon, has allowed South Korean factory managers to return to Kaesong to check on the plants' long-idled equipment and retrieve hundreds of tons of finished goods and other materials.

The South's conservative government appears determined to use the talks to set new rules in inter-Korean relations. President Park Geun-hye has said that if the South appeases the North by ignoring its provocative behavior, the "vicious cycle" will only continue.

Mr. Kim, the chief South Korean delegate, said his government wanted to turn Kaesong into an "internationalized" factory park. South Korean policy makers said that by inviting foreign investors, they hoped to help North Korea become more responsible for honoring "international standards" in business. But the North rejected the idea as a plot to spread outside influence in the country, where the totalitarian government strives to keep its people isolated from the rest of the world.

Last week, North Korea proposed talks on reuniting families who have been separated for decades by the division of the Korean Peninsula, but it later withdrew the offer, after the South rejected a separate offer from the North to discuss resuming South Korean tours to a North Korean mountain. Both sides agreed to focus on the Kaesong issue.

The Kaesong complex, pairing South Korean manufacturing skills and capital with low-cost North Korean labor, was the last of a handful of cross-border projects that were begun during an earlier period of reconciliation. It began operations in late 2004; its production rose to $470 million last year.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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