North Korea proposes talks with South on commercial projects

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North Korea on Thursday proposed official talks with South Korea to normalize commercial projects, including the Kaesong industrial zone that was shut at the height of tensions between the rivals in early April.

North Korea’s state-owned KCNA news agency also said the government would restore severed communications channels if the South accepted the offer of talks, indicating it was prepared to roll back a series of steps it has taken since March that reinforced the deterioration in relations between the two sides.

The North, in a 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 normalization 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 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.

It was not immediately clear whether Seoul will consider the North’s statement as an acceptance of its offer for talks. Officials at the Unification Ministry, which handles Seoul’s ties with Pyongyang, could not immediately be reached for comment on a holiday on Thursday.

From the beginning of March, North Korea has threatened to attack the South and US military bases in the Pacific using its missile and nuclear arsenal, driving tensions to the highest point in decades.

The daily barrage of threats and steps to cut off communications channels with the South and the US-led forces guarding the Korean border ceased in late April, timed with the end of annual military drills by the South and US forces.

Experts said the threats may have been designed by the North to reinforce leader Kim Jong-un’s stature as a military leader and to beef up his grip on the country’s nearly 1.2-million strong army.

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