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North and South Korea to begin talks Sunday in a bid to ease tensions

A South Korean military truck crosses Unification bridge, which leads to the demilitarized zone, near the border village of Panmunjom Friday, June 7, 2013. North Korea has agreed to talks with South Korea to be held in the border city on Sunday as the rivals look to mend ties that have plunged during recent years. (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

North and South Korea are to meet Sunday for the first of several planned talks aimed at easing tensions and restarting joint economic projects and exchange programs that have been suspended, South Korean officials said Saturday.

The talks are the latest sign of rapprochement on the peninsula, a rapid turnaround from several months ago when the North cut nearly all ties with its neighbor and threatened preemptive nuclear strikes in the region.

A deal on the first round was finalized Saturday when the North agreed to meet at the border truce village of Panmunjom, a location Seoul had proposed a day earlier.

The talks are described as “working-level,” designed to set the stage for a higher-level meeting between cabinet ministers tentatively scheduled for Wednesday in Seoul, said Park Soo-jin, a spokeswoman from South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which manages relations with the North. That meeting of North and South Korean ministers would be the first of its kind in six years.

In recent weeks, North Korea has shown a growing interest in dialogue, perhaps pushed by China, which has encouraged the leadership in Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table. Analysts say it is doubtful that Pyongyang is sincerely interested in resuming stalled multinational talks geared at coaxing the North to disarm. But the inter-Korean talks, which don’t touch on nuclear weapons, are an easier first step.

On Thursday, the North proposed a resumption of government-level talks with the South. The next day, it reestablished a cross-border communications hotline that it had severed more than two months earlier.

At the upcoming talks, the two countries are expected to discuss reopening a jointly run border industrial park that was shuttered in early April, when the North withdrew its 53,000 workers. They could also discuss resuming tours to a North Korean mountain resort, a project that stopped in 2008 after a North Korean guard shot and killed a South Korean tourist.

Chico Harlan covers personal economics as part of The Post's financial team.



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