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November 21, 2015

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Koreas agree to hold rare talks next week

NORTH and South Korea agreed yesterday to hold rare talks next week, aimed at setting up a high-level dialogue that might provide the foundation for a sustainable improvement in cross-border ties.

The talks, to be held on Thursday in the border truce village of Panmunjom, will be the first inter-governmental interaction since officials met there in August to defuse a crisis that had pushed both sides to the brink of an armed conflict.

That meeting ended with a joint agreement that included a commitment to resume a high-level dialogue, although no precise timeline was given.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said talks proposals sent to Pyongyang in September and October had failed to get a response.

Then on Thursday, North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which handles ties with South Korea, had sent Seoul a notice proposing the meeting next Thursday.

“We have accepted,” a Unification Ministry official said.

Under the terms of the August agreement, Seoul switched off loudspeakers blasting propaganda messages across the border after North Korea expressed regret over recent mine blasts that maimed two South Korean soldiers.

South Korea interpreted the regret as an “apology” but North Korea’s powerful National Defence Commission has since stressed that it was meant only as an expression of sympathy.

Next week’s talks come amid diplomatic shifts in the Northeast Asia region that have left North Korea looking more isolated than ever, with Seoul moving closer to China and improving strained relations with Tokyo.

Earlier this month, the leaders of South Korea, China and Japan held their first summit for more than three years in Seoul.

Although the focus was on trade and other economic issues, the three declared their “firm opposition” to the development of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea is already under a raft of UN sanctions imposed after its three nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

Last week, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye had reiterated her willingness to hold face-to-face talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un — but only if Pyongyang showed some commitment to abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

“There is no reason not to hold an inter-Korean summit if a breakthrough comes in solving the North Korean nuclear issue,” Park said.

“But it will be possible only when the North comes forward for a proactive and sincere dialogue,” she added.

The two Koreas have held two summits in the past, one in 2000 and the second in 2007.



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