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North Korea Crisis

Two Koreas agree to open liaison office in North's Kaesong complex

General-level military talks to be held near border on June 14

SEOUL -- South and North Korea agreed Friday to launch a joint liaison office inside the Kaesong Industrial Complex located to the north of their border in the near future, keeping up the mood of detente on the peninsula as the administration in Pyongyang prepares for an unprecedented summit with the U.S. leadership in Singapore on June 12.

South Korea's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon met with his North Korean counterpart Ri Son Gwon at the border village of Panmunjom, where they discussed a wide range of joint projects, from military and humanitarian issues to sports and cultural exchanges.

"The South and North agreed to open a joint liaison office inside the Kaesong Industrial Complex where officials from both sides [will] work together in the near future," a joint press statement said. The office should assist dialogue between the two sides, "as well as guaranteeing inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation."

Such intentions were part of the Panmunjom Declaration, agreed between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un when they met in April. The two Koreas had run the complex for more than a decade before Seoul decided to shut it down in 2016, responding to protest against Pyongyang's nuclear tests and launches of long-range missiles.

The joint business complex had been a symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, with hundreds of South Korean corporations hiring more than 50,000 North Korean workers. South Korean companies could benefit from cheaper labor costs, while North Korean employees enjoyed higher salaries.

The announcement comes as top officials from North Korea and the U.S. are holding talks in New York, laying the groundwork for the planned summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Kim Yong Chol, the North Korean leader's right-hand man, had meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday and Thursday where they discussed denuclearization.

The two Koreas also reached an agreement to hold general-level military talks on the northern side of Panmunjom on June 14, with the aim of reducing military tension on the peninsula as well as hosting a bilateral meeting of defense ministers. 

The ministers on Friday discussed humanitarian issues as well as sports exchanges. The two countries will host a Red Cross meeting on June 22 at Mount Kumgang in North Korea to discuss family reunions scheduled for mid-August. They will also look into forming a unified team for the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia in August.

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