SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea on Monday proposed holding talks with North Korea on restarting joint tour programs next month, an official said, amid mixed signals from both sides that relations between them are improving.
The South asked the North to hold talks in the North's border city of Kaesong on Feb. 8, rather than the North's initial proposal for two days of talks beginning Tuesday, according to Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters.
The two sides need to consult with each other on how to ensure the safety of South Korean tourists before resuming tours to the North's scenic Diamond Mountain resort, Chun said.
South Korea suspended tours to the resort in July 2008 after a South Korean female tourist was fatally shot after allegedly entering a restricted military area next to the resort. Earlier this month, the North proposed opening talks on restarting the lucrative tours, which provided a legitimate source of hard currency to the North.
North Korea ended a separate tour that brought South Koreans to historic sites to Kaesong in late 2008 amid rising tensions over the policies of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who came into office in early 2008 vowing to take a tougher approach to Pyongyang.
Also Monday, South Korea's Defense Ministry informed the North that it would propose a new date for military talks on their joint industrial complex at Kaesong since the two sides will already be meeting to discuss the complex on Feb. 1. The North earlier had proposed meeting on Tuesday for military talks.
The complex is the most prominent symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. More than 110 South Korean factories at Kaesong employ some 42,000 North Korean workers to make everything from electronics and watches to shoes and utensils, providing a major source of revenue for the cash-strapped North.
Separately, the South told the North on Monday that it would take more than 40 days to ship Seoul's promised 10,000 tons of food aid to the North, which would be Seoul's first direct aid to the country under President Lee.
Lee's administration still refuses to resume full-scale assistance, demanding that Pyongyang make progress in efforts to dismantle its nuclear weapons.
North Korea quit international talks on ending its nuclear programs in April last year, but has indicated its willingness to return to international disarmament negotiations if the sanctions are lifted. (AP)