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North Korea

South Korea accepts North Korean invitation to official talks

Seoul has agreed to enter into official level talks with Pyongyang following months of heightened tensions. The leaders are to discuss reopening a joint industrial zone and other steps to mending relations.

South Korea responded quickly to an invitation on Thursday from its northern neighbor to resume diplomatic efforts, according to its Unification Ministry.

The South Korean government viewed the diplomatic gesture from the North "positively," the Unification Ministry said in a statement.

"We hope that South and North Korea can build trust through this opportunity," the statement said, adding that it would announce the date and venue at a later time.

North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea put forth the proposal by way of its official KNCA news agency earlier in the day, signaling its own wish for the "normalization of the operation of the Kaesong industrial zone."

Tensions high

The already tense relationship between Seoul and Pyongyang had deteriorated further earlier this year, when the international community levied harsher sanctions on North Korea following a nuclear test. In retaliation, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un threatened to launch missile and nuclear strikes on South Korea and the United States.

Kim's belligerent rhetoric coincided with annual South Korea-US military drills, which he demanded come to an end. As newly elected South Korean President Park Geun-Hye refused to acquiesce to Kim's demands to halt the military exercises, North Korea drew the Kaesong industrial zone into the confrontation as a bargaining chip.

Pyongyang abruptly withdrew 53,000 workers from Kaesong and severed the official telephone line to Seoul, forcing South Korean employees to leave the area as well. The complex, located in the North's territory, houses 123 South Korean firms and employs over 50,000 North Koreans.

Thursday's invitation came little over a week after Pyongyang allowed South Koreans to return to the industrial complex. The communist government had suggested that talks could take place during the visit, but Seoul rejected the offer, instead urging the North to pursue official-level meetings.

kms/slk (AP, AFP, Reuters)