Two Koreas agree talks in rush of peaceful gestures

SEOUL Tue Jul 26, 2011 11:52am EDT

Army soldiers remove a barricade for trucks carrying sacks of flour to North Korea at a checkpoint in front of the Unification Bridge near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, about 55 km (34 miles) north of Seoul, July 26, 2011. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

Army soldiers remove a barricade for trucks carrying sacks of flour to North Korea at a checkpoint in front of the Unification Bridge near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, about 55 km (34 miles) north of Seoul, July 26, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea agreed on Tuesday to a third round of talks with South Korea aimed at resolving a long-running row over a shuttered joint tourist resort in the North.

A rush of diplomatic contacts between the two Koreas and the United States, plus a shipment of food aid from the South on Tuesday, raised hopes for a resumption of long-delayed aid-for-denuclearization talks.

Seoul had proposed a new round of dialogue for Friday to discuss Pyongyang's threat to strip a South Korean company of its assets at the resort, and added it was also willing to discuss a resumption of tourism links.

The North said in a letter to the unification ministry, the office that deals with inter-Korean affairs in Seoul, that it agreed to hold working-level talks on the condition that South Korea brings private businessmen.

"But if the South does not bring businessmen or uses the talks for the purpose of interfering with negotiations on asset settlement, talks will be unnecessary and firm action on legal disposal of South's real estate in Kumgang will be taken," the ministry quoted the letter as saying.

In June, the North said it had revised a law overseeing the joint tourism project, effectively ending Hyundai Asan's contract to run exclusively all cross-border tours to the resort.

The North says it wants to redevelop the resort. It has been shuttered since 2008 after Seoul suspended tours following the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist there.

Mount Kumgang had been a source of hard currency for the destitute North under two liberal governments in the South before President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008.

Analysts say the North is trying to push the South into reopening tourism links to the resort to raise cash.

MORE TALKS, AID

Tensions have eased on the divided peninsula since two attacks last year killed 50 South Koreans. Last week the two Koreas' nuclear envoys and foreign ministers met for the first time in more than two years.

On Tuesday, Kim Kye-gwan, the North's first vice foreign minister, left for the United States where he is expected to meet Stephen Bosworth, Washington's top envoy on North Korea.

The visit by Kim, one of the key strategists in Pyongyang's nuclear talks with Washington, is his first since March 2007. Bosworth and Kim last met in Pyongyang in December 2009, a few months after the North walked out of six-party talks.

The flurry of diplomacy has raised hopes for the resumption of long-stalled nuclear talks. But both Seoul and Washington insist the terms for dialogue have not changed and that Pyongyang must first prove it is serious about denuclearizing.

In another sign of improving relations, a dozen trucks laden with 300 tons of flour crossed the South-North border on Tuesday in the first such delivery of flour aid since the North's deadly attack on a South Korean island in November.

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park; editing by Robert Woodward)

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