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Koreas agree to meeting in bid to ease tensions

    South Korean army soldiers walk by a signboard showing the distance to the North Korean capital Pyongyang and to South's capital Seoul from Imjingang Station near the border village of the Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, June 7, 2013. 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.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL >> North and South Korea will meet Sunday at a village straddling their heavily armed border as the sides try to lower tension and restore projects once seen as symbols of their rapprochement, officials said.

The North delivered its agreement Saturday to hold talks at Panmunjom through a Red Cross line restored a day earlier, a Unification Ministry official in Seoul said, speaking on condition of anonymity citing official policy.

Another official confirmed the North’s acceptance of Seoul’s proposal to change the venue to the Panmunjom border village from the North Korean border city of Kaesong which Pyongyang favored earlier.

The agreement to hold the first government-level talks on the peninsula since early 2011 is the latest sign that tension is easing between the countries after Pyongyang threatened to attack South Korea and the United States with nuclear missiles earlier this year.

It also comes as President Barack Obama meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in California. Xi late last month met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s special envoy in Beijing and received a statement from him that Pyongyang was willing to return to dialogue with all parties.

North and South Korea plan higher-level talks later on restoring a jointly run factory park and other cross-border exchanges. In April, Pyongyang pulled its 53,000 workers from the Kaesong industrial park just north of the border. Seoul withdrew its last personnel in May.

Seoul said that the ministerial-level talks should be held Wednesday in Seoul. Pyongyang requested a lower-level meeting first, citing mistrust between the sides and a lack of dialogue over the years. The countries’ ministers in charge of cross-border relations last met in 2007.

The talks on Sunday could represent a change in North Korea’s approach, analysts said, or could simply be an effort to ease international demands that it end its development of nuclear weapons, a topic crucial to Washington but not a part of the envisioned inter-Korean meetings.

Other items to be discussed if the Koreas hold ministerial-level talks include stalled South Korean cross-border tours to a North Korean mountain and the reunions of families separated by war.

Panmunjom is where a truce ending the 1950-53 Korean War was signed. That truce has never been replaced with a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically at war.

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