July 6, 2013 / 4:23 AM / in 4 years

North, South Korea officials hold talks on joint industrial zone

SEOUL (Reuters) - North and South Korean officials held talks on Saturday seeking a way to reopen a jointly run industrial zone, a rare source of steady cash for the impoverished North, a month after their last attempt at dialogue collapsed in acrimony over protocol.

Head of the South Korean working-level delegation Suh Ho (L) shakes hands with his North Korean counterpart Park Chol-su before talks at the Tongilgak on the North Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone, north of Seoul July 6, 2013. REUTERS/Korea Pool/Yonhap

North Korea called for an early restart of the Kaesong Industrial zone, just north of the militarized border, South Korean media reported.

But Seoul’s chief delegate Suh Ho sought an assurance from the North that it would not repeat the kind of actions it took in April that led to the halt of the factory project.

North Korea shut down the factories in April, pulling out all 53,000 of its workers and banning South Korean firms from crossing the border with supplies and managers at the height of tensions between the two sides.

The North said the South Korean government and media had insulted its good intentions by saying it only let the project continue because of the money it generated.

“We will focus on the agenda and try to work on building confidence and cooperation starting with small issues and try our best to channel that to bigger confidence and cooperation,” Suh told reporters in Seoul before the talks.

The two sides were due to hold more talks later on Saturday.

Earlier this year, North Korea threatened strikes with nuclear and other missiles against the South and the United States after the United Nations tightened sanctions against it for conducting its third nuclear test in February.

The North suddenly eased tensions by agreeing to dialogue last month that would have led to the resumption of high-level talks for the first time in six years. However, plans for that meeting collapsed over a seemingly minor disagreement about who would lead the respective delegations.

The reopening of the Kaesong project is seen as meeting the political interest of the democratic South, one of the world’s richest countries, and the economic interest of the reclusive and impoverished North that is incapable of feeding its people.

Experts say the North often alternates between threats of military action and then negotiations in a bid to extract aid. Its long-term aim is to win diplomatic recognition from the United States and to be recognized as a nuclear weapons state.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has pledged to engage the North in dialogue and take steps to build confidence for better ties, but has also vowed not to give in to unreasonable demands or make concessions to achieve superficial progress.

Additional reporting by Jane Chung and Reuters TV; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani

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