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North, South Korea move to end rupture in ties

North and South Korea announced today they were planning to hold talks for the first time since February 2011, signalling attempts to repair ties thathave been ruptured for months.

world Updated: Jun 06, 2013 15:02 IST

North and South Korea announced on Thursday they were planning to hold talks for the first time since February 2011, signalling attempts to repair ties that have been ruptured for months.

For months earlier this year, North Korea unleashed an almost daily stream of threats agains the South and its ally, the United States, vowing to attack them with nuclear weapons.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula were at the highest in decades, but have waned since joint U.S.-South Korean military drills ended in late April.

North Korea's state-owned KCNA news agency issued a statement on Thursday proposing talks with the South on normalising commercial projects, including the joint industrial zone that was closed at the height of tensions in early April.

It also said Pyongyang would restore severed communications channels if the South accepted the offer of talks, indicating it was prepared to roll back a series of hostile steps it has taken as relations deteriorated.

South Korea's government said the proposal was positive, while details on the time and the agenda for talks would be
announced later on.

"South Korea considers the offer positively and hopes talks can be an opportunity to build trust between the two Koreas," said Kim Hyung-suk, the spokesman for Seoul's Ministry of Unification, which oversees ties with the North.

The North, in the statement by its Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea which handles ties with the South, also proposed discussing the reopening of tours to a mountain resort and family reunions as well as to hold events to mark the 2000 summit of their leaders that opened a decade of
warmer ties.

"We propose holding talks between authorities of the North and the South for the normalisation of the operation in the KIZ (Kaesong industrial zone) and the resumption of tours of Mt. Kumgang on the occasion of the anniversary of the June 15 joint declaration," the committee said.

The June 15 declaration refers to the outcome of the 2000 summit between then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and the
North's Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011.

South Korea has previously proposed to hold talks with the North on reopening the Kaesong zone, but Seoul has been reluctant to link those talks with the summit commemoration,saying Pyongyang would try to use them for propaganda.

North Korea stepped up defiance of UN Security Council resolutions in December when it launched a rocket that it said
had put a scientific satellite into orbit. Critics said the launch was aimed at developing technology to deliver a nuclear
warhead mounted on a long-range missile.

The North followed that in February with its third test of a nuclear weapon. That brought new UN sanctions which in turn
led to a dramatic intensification of North Korea's threats of nuclear strikes against South Korea and the United States.

The threats have now waned. The North sent one of its top military officials to China in late May and Choe Ryong-hae, a
special envoy of leader Kim Jong-un, said the secluded country was willing to take "positive steps" for peace and stability.

Moon Hong-sik, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Stragegy, said North Korea's gesture may be in
response to China's pressure and also the effect of toughened UN sanctions following the nuclear test in February.

"North Korea is following an old pattern of threats, provocations and talks as it is currently pressured by the
economic squeeze and its major sponsor China is not same as before," said Moon.

China welcomed the improvement in ties between the two Koreas. "We hope that both sides cherish this momentum for talks
which has not come about easily," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing.

The gesture comes just ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping's first summit meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama
on Friday.

North Korea is expected to be the top agenda item.

First Published: Jun 06, 2013 14:25 IST