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South Korea on Sunday accepted North Korea’s request for dialogue about the future of the Kaesong industrial complex, just inside North Korea. Seoul hopes to cool off tensions that have been rising steadily since North Korea’s launch of a long-range Taepodong-2 missile on April 5.
The two Koreas agreed to talk Tuesday only after more saber rattling by North Korea.
North Korea said South Korea would be considered to have issued a “declaration of war” if Seoul joined the US-backed Proliferation Security Initiative.
North Korea sees itself as a target of PSI, a program begun by the US in 2003 for monitoring and interdicting shipments of nuclear material. It currently includes about 15 core counties, and dozens of others participate on an ad hoc basis.
A North Korean military spokesman Saturday used harsh language about the dangers of PSI, saying the “group of traitors” led by South Korea’s President Lee Myung Bak “should never forget” that Seoul is 30 miles south of the border with the North.
South Korea’s unification ministry called that implied threat “lamentable,” but the government decided to put off joining PSI until after Tuesday’s meeting. Foreign ministry officials have said the government had already decided to join the PSI, but there were signs of second thoughts.
The ostensible reason for Tuesday’s talks is the future of the Kaesong industrial complex, where about 100 South Korean companies have factories employing some 40,000 North Koreans.
South Korea is demanding to see a South Korean worker whom North Korean authorities detained recently for bad-mouthing the communist system to a North Korean, believed to be a waitress in a snack bar.
Its not clear yet whether North Korea will use that case as a lever against Seoul's decision to join the PSI.
North Korea also made vague threats Sunday through the official party paper, Rodong Sinmun, saying that the country would “bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defense,” in response to the UN Security Council statement last week condemning the launch of the Taepodong-2 missile.