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NORTH KOREA

North Korea proposes talks with South Korea, opening shut-down communications

North Korea on Friday proposed working-level talks with South Korea to be held in a border city on Sunday as the rivals look to mend ties that have plunged during recent years amid hardline stances by both countries.

In another sign of easing tensions ahead of the proposed meeting, Pyongyang said in a statement that it would reopen a Red Cross communication line with South Korea in their truce village later Friday. The North shut the communication line in March during a tense period marked by North Korean threats of war and South Korean counter-threats.

The statement by an unidentified spokesman for the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which handles relations with Seoul, followed the countries' agreement Thursday to hold talks on reopening a jointly run factory complex and possibly other issues. The easing tension also comes ahead of a summit by the leaders of China and the United States in which the North is expected to be a key topic.

South Korea in April proposed government-level talks about the factory complex and on Thursday suggested holding ministerial talks in Seoul on Wednesday. But the North Korean statement said that working-level talks are needed before any higher-level meetings "in the light of the prevailing situation in which the bilateral relations have been stalemated for years and mistrust has reached the extremity."

The envisioned talks, which Pyongyang is proposing be held in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, could help ease tensions, but the topic of ridding the North of its nuclear weapons program is not up for debate.

A key issue is finding a way to reopen the factory complex in Kaesong, which is just north of the Demilitarized Zone separating the countries.

The decade-old Kaesong complex, the product of an era of inter-Korean cooperation, shut down gradually after Pyongyang cut border communications and access, then pulled the complex's 53,000 North Korean workers. The last South Korean managers at Kaesong left last month.