North and South Korea announce diplomatic breakthrough with talks set for this week
Meeting could cool relations after a tense few months
North and South Korea have announced high-level talks planned for this week, aimed at improving co-operation after a tense few months, which culminated in threats of nuclear war from the North.
The two-day meeting will start on Wednesday and focus on stalled joint projects, such as a factory on the border that was the last remaining vestige of inter-Korean rapprochement until Pyongyang pulled out its workers in April.
The meeting's details, hammered out overnight during 17 hours of negotiations in the village of Panmunjom on the heavily armed border, are still unannounced.
The agreement to hold the talks was announced in a statement early on Monday by South Korea's Unification Ministry, and by North Korea's official news agency, KCNA.
It's still unclear who will represent each side in what will probably be the highest-level talks between the Koreas in years.
The last several years have seen North Korean nuclear tests, long-range rocket launches and attacks blamed on the North that killed 50 South Koreans in 2010.
The meeting will also include discussions on resuming South Korean tours to a North Korean mountain resort, the reunion of separated families and other humanitarian issues, officials said. But the discussion of the North's nuclear arsenal isn't on the official agenda.
When asked Monday by reporters if South Korean delegates raised the issue during Sunday's negotiations, the South's Unification Policy Officer Chun Hae-sung said it wasn't appropriate do discuss issues that weren't part of the agenda.
Pyongyang apparently wants issues related to its pursuit of atomic weapons resolved through talks with Washington or in broader, now-stalled international disarmament negotiations.
Seoul's Unification Ministry said in a statement that while there was broad agreement, sticking points arose over the delegation heads and the agenda. Seoul said it will send a senior-level official responsible for North Korea-related issues while Pyongyang said it would send a senior-level government official, without elaborating.
North Korea said that in addition to the rapprochement projects, the two sides would also discuss how to jointly commemorate past inter-Korean statements, including one settled during a landmark 2000 summit between the countries' leaders, civilian exchanges and other joint collaboration matters.
South Korea's Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae proposed a minister-level meeting with the North last week. But Chun, who led the South's delegation at Sunday's talks, told reporters it is not clear if Ryoo will represent South Korea. A minister-level summit between the Koreas has not happened since 2007.
The armistice which ended the 1950-53 Korean War has never been replaced with a peace treaty, leaving the neighbours technically at war.
Pyongyang is trying to improve ties with Seoul because it very much wants dialogue with the United States, which could give the North aid, ease international sanctions and improve its economy in return for concessions, said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.
The summit marks a political and diplomatic victory for South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who took office in February and has maintained through the heightened tensions a policy that combines vows of strong counter-action to any North Korea provocation with efforts to build trust and re-establish dialogue.
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