North Korean and South Korean officials are holding rare talks aimed at improving long-strained ties, after a military stand-off in August.
The meeting is taking place at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone.
Tension between North Korea and South Korea ramped up in August when a border blast injured two South Korean soldiers.
Meetings at that time eventually led to the two Koreas stepping away from a military confrontation.
The two sides are expected to discuss details such as the timing and agenda of higher-level talks, reported South Korean news agency Yonhap.
South Korea’s chief negotiator, Kim Ki-woong, told reporters before the meeting: “We are resolved to maintaining the momentum for dialogue that was started by the August agreement.”
In June 2013, North Korea and South Korea agreed to hold what would have been the first high-level dialogue for six years. However, just the day before the scheduled meeting, Pyongyang canceled it, citing the seniority of the South Korean negotiator.
On August 4, two South Korean soldiers by the border were seriously injured by a landmine blast, which was blamed on the North. North Korea denied planting the landmine.
South Korea began propaganda broadcasts into the North, infuriating Pyongyang which in turn declared a “semi-state of war” and began deploying troops to the frontline.
However, after talks, also held at Panmunjom, the two countries reached a deal to de-escalate tensions with South Korea stopping the broadcasts and North Korea pulling back troops.
South Korea has accepted an offer from North Korea to hold talks on November 26, Seoul officials have confirmed.
The talks, to be held at the Panmunjom truce village, will set the stage for high-level meetings which were agreed in principle in August.
That deal followed a stand-off in August that began with landmine explosions on the border and involved an exchange of artillery fire.
South Korea said it had sent requests for meetings before but had no response.
North Korea and South Korea are technically still at war because the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
In August 2015, a landmine explosion at the heavily militarized border seriously injured two South Korean soldiers.
In response, South Korea resumed its abandoned practice of blasting propaganda over the border, and evacuated people from the border region. North Korea said it had put its military on a “war footing”.
Tensions bubbled over in a brief exchange of fire at the heavily guarded border.
After crisis talks, South Korea agreed to turned off the loudspeakers while North Korea agreed to step down its military.
The agreement included a pledge to resume talks on improving ties, and to hold the first reunions for families separated during the Korean War in over a year.
North Korea also expressed regret over the mine explosions, though later clarified it was not accepting responsibility for the blast.
North Korea and South Korea will hold a second day of top-level talks amid growing tension, South Korean officials say.
The announcement was made after several hours of negotiations on August 22.
Senior aides to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye met at the Panmunjom truce village on the border.
North Korea had threatened “strong military action” if South Korea did not stop border loudspeaker broadcasts that had provoked a “semi-state of war”.
The two sides have agreed to meet again on August 23 to “narrow down differences” as overnight talks were finally wound up after nearly 10 hours of negotiations.
No media organizations were present at the talks, which took place inside the Demilitarized Zone which divides the two Koreas.
South Korea said ahead of the talks that it would be represented by national security adviser Kim Kwan-jin and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo, and North Korea would send senior officials Hwang Pyong-so and Kim Yong-gon.
Hwang Pyong-so is seen by many analysts as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s second-in-command.
Photo South Korean Unification Ministry
North Korea had earlier issued a deadline for the dismantling of banks of loudspeakers, which have been blasting news bulletins, weather forecasts and music from the South. It had moved artillery into positions to fire on them.
South Korea has evacuated almost 4,000 residents from border areas and warned that it would “retaliate harshly”.
American and South Korean fighter jets have been flying in formation near the border.
The US’s top military officer has reaffirmed his country’s “unwavering commitment” to South Korea’s defense in a phone call to his South Korean counterpart.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey and South Korea’s Admiral Choi Yoon-hee agreed they would “ensure that the US and [South Korea] continue to work closely with one another to deter further North Korean provocations and defuse tensions,” a Pentagon statement said.
North Korea and South Korea remain technically at war, because the 1950-1953 conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
In 2004, the two Koreas reached an agreement to dismantle their propaganda loudspeakers at the border.
The broadcasts were part of a program of psychological warfare, according to South Korean newspaper Korea Times, to deliver outside news so that North Korean soldiers and border-area residents could hear it.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has announced she is prepared to hold talks with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un without setting pre-conditions.
In a nationally televised press conference, Park Geun-hye said she would “meet with anyone if necessary to open the path of a peaceful unification”.
Kim Jong-un offered talks with South Korea if the conditions were right in his New Year address.
Leaders of South Korea and North Korea have only met twice, in 2000 and 2007, since the Korean War which divided the peninsula.
Kim Jong-un had said on January 1 that “depending on the mood and circumstances”, there would be “no reason” not to hold a high-level summit on the reunification of the two Koreas.
On January 12, Park Geun-hye delivered her own New Year message saying she would set no conditions to the talks, but added that North Korea should take “sincere” steps towards denuclearization.
North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests in recent years, aggravating relations with the South.
It has offered to put a moratorium on testing nuclear weapons if South Korea halts military exercises it holds with American forces. That offer was rejected and the two allies plan to hold a joint naval drill this week, reported South Korean news agency Yonhap.
Park Geun-hye also called on North Korea to “come forward for dialogue without hesitation” on efforts to reunite families separated since the end of 1950-53 Korean War.
The last formal high-level talks were in February 2014, leading to rare reunions for Korean families separated for over 60 years.
However, further talks planned in October were dropped after North Korea accused South Korea of not doing enough to stop activists sending anti-Northern leaflets across the border on balloons.
The two Koreas have technically been at war since the Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
Park Geun-hye also addressed the use of a controversial law to deport Korean-American Shin Eun-mi on January 10.
South Korea has put in place a National Security Law which states that anyone who praises North Korea can be jailed for up to seven years.
The law was used to deport Shin Eun-mi for speaking positively about life in North Korea in speeches and in online posts. Shin Eun-mi has denied she praised North Korea.
Critics say the controversial law suppresses freedom of speech.
Park Geun-hye defended the law’s use, saying it was needed to “ensure security in this country as we remain in a standoff with the North”.
North Korea has blamed the South for “arrogant obstructions” that led high-level talks to be cancelled.
South Korea’s “deliberate disturbance” by changing the head of its delegation made “the talks between authorities abortive”, North Korea said.
The planned talks, which followed months of raised tensions, were aborted after the two sides failed to agree on the composition of the delegations.
Seoul said it was disappointed with North Korea’s response.
North Korea’s state-run news agency KCNA described the South’s nomination of Vice-Unification Minister Kim Nam-shik to lead the delegation as “the height of discourtesy and disrespect unprecedented in the history of the North-South dialogue”.
This, and the difficulty in agreeing an agenda for discussion, proved “that the South side had no intent to hold dialogue from the beginning and that it only sought to create an obstacle to the talks, [to] delay and torpedo them”, it said.
It added that this made the North question whether inter-Korean talks were possible.
The two Koreas have not held ministerial-level talks since 2007.
North Korea has accused South Korea of “arrogant obstructions” that led high-level talks to be cancelled
The agreement to hold the talks – seen by analysts as a major development in itself – came in the early hours of Monday after lengthy preliminary discussions in the truce village of Panmunjom.
It came after months of heightened tensions following North Korea’s third nuclear test in February.
After the UN tightened sanctions against the North as a result of the test, Pyongyang threatened to attack South Korea and US bases in the region, cut various hotlines used for intra-Korean communication, and withdrew its workers from a joint industrial park.
South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae was originally reported as the head of the South’s delegation for Wednesday’s planned talks.
However, when Seoul asked Pyongyang to send Kim Yang-gon, an adviser to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, North Korea refused. Seoul then named its vice-minister as its chief negotiator instead.
North Korea said the implication that Kim Yang-gon was not equal in rank to Ryoo Kihl-jae was “a revelation of its ignorance”, and “a manifestation of [South Korea’s] sinister intention” to abort the talks.
Speaking on Wednesday, South Korean PM Chung Hong-won said Seoul would no longer make “infinite concessions” to North Korea.
“In the past, we have made infinite concessions to the North, but the time has come to hold talks where both sides are represented by officials of the same level,” Chung Hong-won said.
Meanwhile, North Korea has not answered routine calls from South Korea via the Red Cross communications line linking the two countries, South Korea says.
North Korea cut the communications link in March amid rising regional tensions, but restored it last Friday.
South Korean media say the unanswered calls may suggest that Pyongyang has cut the hotline again.