South Korea has accepted an offer by the North to hold official talks, in a possible diplomatic breakthrough that follows weeks of worsening relations on the Korean peninsula.
Pyongyang's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea unexpectedly offered Thursday to hold talks on a pair of stalled joint commercial projects. It also suggested humanitarian issues were up for discussion.
Seoul's unification ministry quickly accepted the offer, saying it hopes the talks can help build trust between the two neighbors. It later said it wanted the working-level talks to be held in Seoul on June 12. There has been no further response by the North.
In the past, the South has been reluctant to commit to wide-ranging discussions unless the North agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
The North's statement Thursday said the talks should include the possible re-opening of the Kaesong industrial complex, a jointly run factory north of the border that was shuttered in April amid heightened tensions.
It also proposed discussing the resumption of cross-border tours to the North's Mount Kumgang resort. South Korea halted visits there after the 2008 shooting death of a South Korean tourist by the North's troops.
The statement said humanitarian issues, such as the resumption of separated Korean families, can be discussed, "if necessary." It also promised to reconnect a severed communications hotline with Seoul at the Panmunjom truce village, if the South agreed to the talks.
Korean relations sank to their lowest level in years following Pyongyang's rocket launch in December and nuclear test in February, moves that led to expanded United Nations sanctions against the North.
In response, Pyongyang launched an almost daily barrage of threats against the South. As part of the campaign, North Korea pulled its workers from the Kaesong center in protest. South Korea removed its managers a short time later, closing the last remaining economic link between the two Koreas.
Thursday's offer by Pyongyang comes just one day before the beginning of an informal two-day summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Some analysts suspect Pyongyang's move may be timed in order to get a more lenient reaction from China, which has become more impatient in recent weeks with North Korea, its neighbor and longtime ally.
China's foreign ministry on Thursday welcomed the development, saying it has always supported the North and South's resolution of their problems through dialogue and consultation.