Working-level talks on Kaesong set; experts cautious

July 5, 2013 at 1:23 AM
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SEOUL, July 5 (UPI) -- South Korean experts were cautious Friday about the outcome of the working-level talks between the two Koreas on reopening the Kaesong industrial complex.

North and South Korea agreed to hold official talks Saturday on reopening their joint complex in North Korea's border town of Kaesong, which was closed in April at the height of tensions between the two countries. The agreement to hold the talks at Tongilgak, an administrative building on the North Korean side of the neutral border village of Panmunjom, came after the North on Wednesday agreed to let South Korean businessmen visit their plants at Kaesong to inspect their machinery.

Operations at the 10-year-old complex is the only economic link between the two Koreas and had been a major source of revenue and jobs for the impoverished North before it was shuttered in 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. There are 123 South Korean companies represented at the complex. Since April, South Korea has said any talks on reopening the complex can only be at an official level, even as some of its businesses involved in the complex had been threatening to relocate their facilities.

The North's change of position on Kaesong has raised hopes the may be ready to change its attitude. Earlier this week, the North also reopened the Panmunjom communication hotline with the South.

However, experts in Seoul were reluctant to predict whether any headway would be made at the weekend talks.

A similar attempt to hold high-level talks last month was canceled after a dispute over the official status of the leaders of each side's delegation.

"Policymakers here have made clear on numerous occasions that things cannot go back to (the way they were) before the crisis, raising the likelihood that Seoul will demand strong assurances from the North that could restrict the communist country's control over the complex," a state-run think tank expert told Yonhap News Agency.

He warned the North, on the other hand, may ask the South to first allow the complex to resume operations and then propose that both sides discuss additional safeguards at a later date.

"If both sides insist on their own ways of resolving the current situation, negotiations may not make headway," the expert said.

South Korea's Ministry of Unification said a three-member delegation from each side would attend the Tongilgak meeting. Yonhap said the North, changing its earlier stance, did not insist that South Korean businessmen should be allowed to visit their plants in Kaesong at the same time or ahead of the official contact. The South had insisted official talks should precede any visit to Kaesong by its businessmen.

"North Korea is probably feeling an unprecedented level of diplomatic isolation with pressures coming from the international community. It is also fully aware of the value of the Kaesong industrial complex, which provides a considerable amount of hard foreign currency," Kim Tae-woo, former president of the Korea Institute for National Unification, told CNN.

"But stirring tensions, then going back to dialogue, is part of North Korea's usual tactics. We don't need to attach too much weight to this easing of tension."

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.

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