North Korea reportedly issued the invitation to South Korean businessmen to visit their factories at the inter-Korean industrial complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, which remains shuttered.
The North "has decided to allow South Korean businessmen to visit the Kaesong complex so that they can take emergency steps against possible damages of facilities and materials there during the rainy season," said a North Korean message sent to South Korea through the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom, Yonhap News reported.
Operations at the 10-year-old complex, the only economic link between the two Koreas, with 123 South Korean companies participating, were suspended in early April after North Korea pulled its 53,000 workers and banned the entry of South Korean representatives and supplies into the complex amid growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Since then, South Korea has said any talks on reopening the complex can only be at an official level.
Yonhap News said the North's invitation stopped short of accepting the South's call for official level talks.
"Though the doors for dialogue remain open, what is for sure is that there will be no indiscreet and unprincipled policy on North Korea," the South Korean official was quoted as telling reporters.
"What is important is trust. When we have a counterpart, I think trust is the most important thing," the official said. "If trust can be broken at any time and is not kept, it is difficult to expect that any attempts or measures will succeed."
The official said South Korea's Unification Ministry would give an official response to the North Korean invitation.
Tensions in the region have heightened since the North's third nuclear test in February and long-range missile firings in violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions.
Last month, the two sides held a working-level meeting to prepare for official talks, but those talks were later called off reportedly because of disagreement over the status of their delegation leaders.
In other developments, the South Korean government said the inter-Korean communication line at the truce village of Panmunjom was operating normally Thursday, a day after North Korea's invitation to South Korean businessmen.
The Unification Ministry said the North, which had not communicated on the line since canceling the high-level talks, answered a call placed on the Red Cross phone line Thursday morning.
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