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At 'Truce Village,' North, South Korea set stage for cabinet-level talks

Unification Ministry / Reuters

A South Korean official shakes hands with Kim Song-hye, a senior official of North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea and head of a North Korean delegation for an inter-Korean working-level talks.

North and South Korea inched closer to resetting their strained relations Sunday as delegations met face-to-face to lay the foundation for the first cabinet-level talks in six years.

The meeting at the “Truce Village” of Panmunjom in the Korean Demilitarized Zone — so-called because the armistice that brought the 1950-53 Korean War to a close was signed there — signaled that the two countries may be prepared to move beyond months of mutual mistrust.

Officials reportedly reviewed logistics for two days of high-level talks between cabinet ministers scheduled to begin Wednesday in Seoul, according to The Associated Press. Senior government officials have not sat down for a meeting since 2007.

This week’s talks are expected to center on reopening a jointly run factory shut down this spring after the North closed the border and pulled out 53,000 of its workers during a particularly icy period in intergovernmental relations.

Any evidence of friendliness between the Koreas marks a significant counterpoint to recent tensions.

Over the last few months, the North has threatened preemptive nuclear strikes in the Asia-Pacific region and the U.S., raising the ire of officials in the West and alienating their neighbor to the south. Nuclear disarmament is not expected to appear on the agenda at Wednesday’s talks, according to the AP.

Prior to Sunday’s meeting, the South expressed enthusiasm about the potential for reconciliation.

“The development of South and North Korean relations starts form little things and gradual trust-building,” a South Korean delegate, Unification Policy Officer Chun Hae-sung, said before the meeting began, according to the AP.

The first round of dialogue between the Koreas comes on the heels of a closely-watched summit attended by President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in which both leaders agreed that North Korea’s nuclear program poses a significant threat to the international community.

Security analysts have speculated that Pyongyang’s interest in closer ties with the South may stem from pressure from Beijing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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