Koreas agree to high-level dialogue

 A handout photo released by the South Korean Unification Ministry shows South Korean chief delegate Kim Ki-Woong (R) talking with his North Korean counterpart Hwang Chol (L) during their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized
A handout photo released by the South Korean Unification Ministry shows South Korean chief delegate Kim Ki-Woong (R) talking with his North Korean counterpart Hwang Chol (L) during their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas on Nov 26, 2015. AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - The two Koreas agreed on Thursday to hold a rare high-level dialogue next month, in line with an accord struck in August aimed at easing cross-border tensions, the Unification Ministry in Seoul announced.

A ministry official said the two sides would meet at the deputy minister level on Dec 11 in the Kaesong joint industrial zone, just inside North Korea.

The agenda would include "pending issues related to the improvement of ties", the official said without elaborating.

Agreement on the dialogue was reached at working-level talks held Thursday in the border truce village of Panmunjom.

Although any dialogue between the two Koreas is generally welcomed as a step in the right direction, precedent suggests it is still too early to hope for any significant breakthrough.

A similar effort back in June 2013 saw both sides agree to hold what would have been the first high-level dialogue for six years - only for Pyongyang to cancel a day before the talks were scheduled to begin.

In the end, it was a matter of protocol - the North felt insulted by the South's nomination of a vice-minister as its chief delegate - that smothered the initiative before it had even drawn breath.

Likely topics for the eventual agenda in Kaesong include South Korea's desire for regular reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, which cemented the division of the Korean peninsula.

North Korea, meanwhile, will want to discuss the resumption of visits by South Korean tour groups to its scenic Mount Kumgang resort.

The tours, a source of badly needed hard currency for the cash-strapped North, were suspended by the South in 2008 after a female tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard.

Thursday's meeting in Panmunjom marked the first inter-governmental interaction since August when the two sides sat down to defuse a crisis that had pushed them to the brink of an armed conflict.

That meeting ended with a joint agreement that included the commitment to resume high-level talks.