South Korea has welcomed a North Korean offer to end a months-long closure of the jointly-run Kaesong industrial complex and has agreed to hold talks on the issue next week.
The South Korean Unification Ministry said Wednesday it accepted Pyongyang's proposal for the talks to be held on August 14 at the shuttered Kaesong factory zone located in the North near the inter-Korean border.
South Korean businesses that used Kaesong to manufacture products with cheap North Korean labor also welcomed the prospect of the two sides lifting a production freeze that began in April. The industrial park had provided a key source of foreign income to the leadership of the impoverished North.
Pyongyang made the offer to re-open the industrial park in what it called a "bold and magnanimous" statement published on Wednesday by its official news agency KCNA. The North offered to guarantee the safety of South Korean managers in Kaesong and promised to send back tens of thousands of workers whom it pulled out in April during a period of heightened inter-Korean tensions.
KCNA also said both Koreas should prevent a recurrence of the shutdown and ensure normal operations continue "without being affected by any situation in any case."
South Korea has demanded a guarantee that North Korea will not unilaterally suspend production at Kaesong if military or political tensions resurface. It is not clear if the latest North Korean statement meets that demand.
KCNA reported the offer about an hour after Seoul said it would start paying compensation to Kaesong's South Korean manufacturers, a move seen by many South Koreans as a sign of the government's readiness to abandon the project.
North Korea previously had maintained 10 days of silence on the South's demand for a "final" round of talks on the future of Kaesong. Six previous rounds had concluded without agreement.
North Korea withdrew its 53,000 workers from Kaesong as part of an angry response to joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises and international sanctions against its February nuclear test. South Korean businesses pulled out their managers and workers in early May. It was the first total shutdown of the complex since it opened in 2004.
Kaesong has served as the last remaining sign of cooperation between the two longtime foes.