North, South Korea agree to official dialogues

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SEOUL: North and South Korea agreed in principle on Thursday to hold their first official talks for years, signalling a possible breakthrough in cross-border ties after months of escalated military tensions.

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A surprise offer from Pyongyang proposed discussions on a range of commercial and humanitarian issues from reopening a joint industrial complex to resuming cross-border family reunions.

The South replied within hours, with the Unification Ministry saying it viewed the offer “positively” and would announce a date, venue and agenda later.

“We hope that South and North Korea can build trust through this opportunity,” the ministry added.

Official contacts between Seoul and Pyongyang have been essentially frozen since South Korea accused the North of torpedoing one of its warships in March 2010 with the loss of 46 lives.

April and May this year saw tensions soar to worrying levels as the North, angered by joint South-US military drills and UN sanctions imposed after its nuclear test in February, threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes.

The situation has calmed in recent weeks, with both sides circling warily around the idea of opening some sort of dialogue.

The North’s proposal, carried in a statement from the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK), said the venue and date for talks “can be set to the convenience of the South side.”

Initial subjects for discussion would be the Kaesong joint industrial zone, which was closed at the height of the recent tensions, and the resumption of cross-border tours to the North’s Mount Kumgang resort, the CPRK said.

Humanitarian issues such as reuniting family members separated after the 1950-53 Korean War could also be discussed.

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