North Korea has proposed a preparatory meeting for high-level talks with South Korea next week, the North’s media said Friday, breaking silence on Seoul’s repeated dialogue offer.
The North suggested that the meeting be held on Thursday in the North’s zone of the truce village of Panmunjom in a notice sent to Seoul’s Unification Ministry, according to the Korean Central News Agency.
The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea in charge of daily inter-Korean affairs delivered the message.
In the Aug. 25 deal on defusing military tensions, the two sides agreed to continue government-level talks.
“It is a relief that the North has accepted Seoul’s offer for dialogue,” said an official at the Unification Ministry.
The Seoul-Pyongyang relations have shown signs of improvement as both sides eked out the deal following heightened tension over a land-mine blast blamed on the North in early August. The incident maimed two South Korean soldiers near the border.
In a move to implement the deal, the two Koreas held the reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War in late October.
But North Korea remained silent on the South’s repeated dialogue offer, without revealing clear reasons.
“The North’s offer for dialogue appears to be aimed at taking the initiative over inter-Korean affairs,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. “Ahead of a planned party congress in May, the North seems to show that it is leading efforts to bring peace to the peninsula.”
The North’s decision also came as discussion is underway for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to visit North Korea. It is not clear if or when Ban will make a rare trip to the North, but if realized, his visit is likely to help improve Seoul-Pyongyang relations.
President Park Geun-hye said last week that she is open to a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un if the North shows sincerity in giving up its nuclear weapons program and improving inter-Korean ties.
Pyongyang has attached preconditions to high-level talks in response to Seoul’s previous similar offers.
North Korea has urged Seoul to lift its punitive sanctions on the North and to resume a now-suspended joint tour program at Mount Kumgang on the North’s east coast.
But the South has called on the North to hold the talks without strings attached, saying that pending issues can be discussed if the North comes to the dialogue table.