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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 274 (August 8, 2013)

2013/08/08 10:43

*** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

South Korea Accepts North Korea's Offer of Talks on Kaesong Complex

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Aug. 7 accepted North Korea's proposal for a new round of talks next week to normalize operations at the inter-Korean factory park that has been closed for four months.

The Ministry of Unification said that the North's offer to hold working-level talks on Aug. 14, which would be the seventh round following the failure of the previous six, can be viewed in a positive light.

"Seoul views the latest talks proposal as the North responding to repeated calls for dialogue from Seoul," ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said. "We hope the North will engage in dialogue in an earnest manner that can contribute to the constructive growth of the complex." he said.

He added the format of the talks will be unchanged from the past, but said details of what will be discussed cannot be made public at present.

All operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the socialist country have been halted since early April after the North withdrew its 53,000 workers from the complex amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The North's offer, which the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of (North) Korea (CPRK) made in a statement, follows more than a week of silence on Seoul's demand for "final talks" to resolve all outstanding issues surrounding operations at Kaesong.

Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae on July 28 warned of unspecified "grave" measures that could be taken by Seoul to limit the fallout from the idled complex on South Korean companies.

In the statement carried by the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the CPRK said the collapse of the Kaesong complex "will seriously hurt the feelings of the fellow countrymen in the north and the south and have unspeakable impact on the inter-Korean relations." Keeping the industrial park in operation is "a patriotic and bold decision and just choice," it said.

The statement said Pyongyang will lift its suspension of the Kaesong park, which was announced on April 8, and allow South Korean businessmen to enter the complex, with safety guarantee for South Korean personnel and their properties. The North will also ensure attendance of its workers at South Korean factories in Kaesong, the statement said.

The CPRK said that the South should accept the talks offer without any preconditions so all differences can be dealt with through dialogue, emphasizing that on Aug. 15, the day after the offered talks, is when the two Koreas celebrate the 68th anniversary of their liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

South Korea had insisted the North must first give solid assurances that it won't repeat unilateral suspensions like in April if there is to be progress at the talks. The latest statement from the CPRK said both "the north and the south will prevent the recurrence of the suspension of operations" at the Kaesong complex.

Government sources, meanwhile, refuted allegation that by accepting the latest talks proposal it may be backtracking on its demand for North Korea's assurances against one-sided closures of the complex.

"Seoul accepted the latest CPRK proposal because it did not blame the South for the current impasse and did not make warnings of future arbitrary closures, which had been the North's stance in the past," said a ministry insider, who did not wish to be identified.

He specifically noted that the North did not repeat the warning it made at the sixth round of talks that it could still close down Kaesong if the South engaged in foul political action or carried out military provocations.

The North's offer on Wednesday came shortly after Seoul said it would hand out 280.9 billion won (US$251.2 million) in insurance payments to 109 Kaesong companies.

The payments, which will be made starting on Aug. 7, are seen by some as the first "grave" step the government has taken toward closing down the complex that remains the last symbol of rapprochement between the two Koreas.

Once insurance money is paid, ownership of the factories and other assets in Kaesong will come under the government's control, making it that much easier for policymakers to close the factory park. The government said payments to companies will proceed without disruption.

"For North Korea to unconditionally lift the suspension of the Kaesong complex is a partial admission by Pyongyang that it is responsible for the present situation to some degree," Prof. Yang Moo-jin at the University of North Korean Studies said, "This is very rare compared to North Korea's previous behavior that was guided by pride."

   Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at IBK's economic research institute, said Pyongyang may have been pushed by lack of time.

"It seems that North Korea felt rushed because the time window for talks was narrowing with the Kaesong complex heading toward closure and the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercise approaching," he said.

Political parties welcomed the development.

"North Korea this time must engage in talks in a responsible manner so that the Kaesong complex is not suspended because of political or military reasons," ruling Saenuri Party spokesman Yoo Il-ho said.

The main opposition Democratic Party, also welcoming Pyongyang's statement, asked that Seoul go into the talks with a flexible and engaging attitude.

"We truly hope that the two sides will make the seventh round the venue for reconciliation and negotiations," party spokeswoman Bae Jae-jeung said.

(END)