North Korea has announced it will restore the key hotline with South Korea at Kaesong Industrial Complex, as the two countries discuss where to hold talks on the jointly-run industrial zone.
Pyongyang said it would reopen a Red Cross hotline which it cut in March.
It also invited officials to come to Kaesong for talks on Sunday on restarting operations at the factory zone, after the two sides agreed in principle to talks on Thursday.
Work at Kaesong has been halted since April, amid high regional tensions.
Ties between the two Koreas deteriorated earlier this year in the wake of the North’s 12 February nuclear test.
North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are expected to be on the table when the US and Chinese presidents meet in California later on Friday for an informal summit.
The Kaesong factory complex is seen as a symbol of North-South co-operation. Around 53,000 North Korean workers are employed there by more than 120 South Korean factories.
The zone is a key source of revenue for the North and the biggest contributor to inter-Korean trade.
North Korea has announced it will restore the key hotline with South Korea at Kaesong Industrial Complex
However, Pyongyang withdrew its workers in April, apparently angered by tightened UN sanctions in the wake of its nuclear test and annual South Korea-US military drills.
It had already cut a military hotline with South Korea, and another line used to communicate with the UN Command at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas, in addition to the Red Cross hotline.
On Thursday, however, it offered talks with the South on the resumption of operations and said it would reconnect the Red Cross hotline if Seoul – which had been seeking such talks – agreed.
Pyongyang’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) said the Red Cross link would be restored from 14:00 local time, AFP news agency said.
The two sides are still working out details of the talks on the industrial zone. The South suggested ministerial-level talks in Seoul on Wednesday, but North Korea has asked for lower-level talks on Sunday in Kaesong, which is located just inside North Korea.
In a statement, Pyongyang said that working-level talks were needed first, “in the light of the prevailing situation in which the bilateral relations have been stalemated for years and mistrust has reached the extremity”.
Kaesong Industrial Complex:
Launched in 2003, largely financed by the South to increase co-operation
More than 120 factories employ North Koreans in manufacturing industries, with goods exported to the South
Complex as a whole produced $470 million worth of goods in 2012 – the biggest contributor to inter-Korean trade
South Korean companies pay more than $80 million a year in wages to North Korean workers
A US official said North Korea has removed two medium-range missiles from a coastal launch site, indicating a lowering of tension on the peninsula.
Pyongyang was believed to be preparing for a launch last month, having threatened attacks in the region.
The threats followed tough new UN sanctions imposed on North Korea in March after its third nuclear test.
North Korea has been angered by wide-ranging annual US-South Korea military drills, which ended a week ago.
The news that the missiles had been removed from the site on the east coast came on the eve of a summit in Washington between the US and South Korean presidents.
South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye is to hold talks with US President Barack Obama later on Tuesday, with the two expected to reiterate a commitment to strong ties. Park, Geun-hye who took office in February, will also address the US Congress on Wednesday.
The Musudan missiles had been ready to launch at any moment but North Korea had now “moved them”, an unnamed US defense official told AFP news agency.
North Korea has removed two medium-range missiles from a coastal launch site, indicating a lowering of tension on the peninsula
A report from South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing an unnamed senior government source, backed that up, saying Pyongyang appeared to have lifted its highest combat alert and moved the missiles, although their current location was not confirmed.
The move is the most tangible sign yet that North Korea has stepped back from its threats to launch missiles.
But a senior US official from the National Security Council warned that, given the North’s unpredictable behavior, it was “premature to celebrate it as good news”.
Pentagon spokesman George Little, who declined to comment directly on the missiles’ reported removal, told reporters “what we have seen recently is a provocation pause”.
“And we think that’s obviously beneficial to efforts to ensure we have peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.”
Meanwhile, the Beijing-based Bank of China said it was halting transactions from North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank.
The US imposed sanctions on North Korea’s main foreign exchange bank after the recent nuclear tests and had urged other countries, including China, to cut ties with the bank.
The Bank of China made the announcement in a statement but did not provide further details.
This is the first time that a Chinese entity has made a move against North Korean interests following the recent tension, according to reports.
North Korea unveiled medium-range Musudan missiles during a military parade in 2010 but had not yet tested them.
Last month, South Korea raised its alert level to “vital threat” amid indications that Pyongyang was preparing for a launch.
At least one ballistic missile with an estimated 2,000-mile range had been fuelled and ready for launch, according to US and South Korean sources.
A test launch would be a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718, passed in 2006, which states the North “must not conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile”.
Pyongyang had issued a series of threats in apparent response to the expanded UN sanctions and the US-South Korea drills – which saw nuclear-capable B2 and B52 bombers flown over the Korean peninsula.
These included warnings of attacks on Japan, South Korea and US military bases in the region, and a pledge to restart a mothballed nuclear reactor that produced plutonium for its weapons programme.
In addition, it shut down an emergency military hotline between Seoul and Pyongyang, and later withdrew some 53,000 workers in April from Kaesong Industrial Complex on the border with South Korea.
Kaesong complex, which was launched in 2003, employed people from both countries and was seen as one of the last remaining symbols of inter-Korean co-operation.
The final South Korean workers left the factory last week – the first time they have done so since the zone began operating 10 years ago.
However the tone of the rhetoric from North Korea has softened somewhat in recent days, observers say.
The United Nations Security Council has unanimously approved fresh sanctions against North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear test last month.
The resolution is targeting North Korean diplomats, cash transfers and access to luxury goods.
It imposes asset freezes and travel bans on three individuals and two firms linked to North Korea’s military.
Pyongyang earlier vowed to use its right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack against its aggressors.
In a 15-0 vote, the council on Thursday backed Resolution 2094, imposing the new sanctions against the North.
Speaking after the vote, the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said the document “strongly condemns” Pyongyang’s actions.
Susan Rice said the sanctions would “further constrain” North Korea’s ability to develop its nuclear programme.
She warned that the UN would “take further significant actions” if Pyongyang were to carry out another nuclear test.
The UN Security Council has unanimously approved fresh sanctions against North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear test last month
“North Korea will achieve nothing by continuing threats and provocations,” she stressed, urging North Korea to comply with the demands of the international community.
China’s UN ambassador, Li Baodong, said that “the top priority now is to defuse the tensions” on the Korean peninsula.
Li Baodong also said that the six-party talks on the North’s controversial programme must resume.
South Korea’s envoy to the UN, Kim Sook, described the North’s nuclear tests as “grave threat to the peace” on the Korean peninsular and the wider region.
Kim Sook urged Pyongyang to respond to the concerns of the world community.
“North Korea’s future rests in its own hands,” he said.
Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who is the current president of the council, described the resolution as an “appropriate measure”.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the measure “sent an unequivocal message to (North Korea) that the international community will not tolerate its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”
Pyongyang has so far made no comments following Thursday’s vote.
But earlier it accused the US of pushing to start a war.
“As long as the United States is willing to spark nuclear war, our forces will exercise their right to a pre-emptive nuclear strike,” said North Korea’s foreign ministry, in a statement carried by the KCNA news agency, without giving further details.
Earlier this week, Pyongyang also threatened to scrap the 60-year truce which ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
North Korea has reacted angrily to a UN resolution condemning its recent rocket launch, pledging to strengthen military and nuclear capabilities.
The Security Council unanimously passed the resolution, which also expanded existing sanctions, on Tuesday.
North Korea, in a statement early on Wednesday, pledged to bolster its “nuclear deterrent” and ruled out denuclearization talks.
The resolution followed Pyongyang’s successful December launch.
North Korea said the three-stage rocket put a communications satellite into space.
But its neighbors and the US said the move constituted a test of long-range missile technology banned under UN resolutions passed after Pyongyang’s nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
The Security Council resolution was proposed by the US and backed by China, North Korea’s closest ally and biggest trading partner.
It represented a compromise between the two nations, with the US pushing for new sanctions and China for a statement, rather than a resolution. Chinese support was a blow for Pyongyang, observers say.
North Korea has reacted angrily to a UN resolution condemning its recent rocket launch, pledging to strengthen military and nuclear capabilities
Under the resolution – which pledged “significant action” if North Korea carried out a third nuclear test – North Korea’s space agency, a bank and a number of trading companies and individuals were added to existing sanctions lists.
“This resolution demonstrates to North Korea that there are unanimous and significant consequences for its flagrant violation” of previous resolutions, said US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.
Both South Korea and Japan welcomed the resolution, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling it a “resolute action”.
Chinese envoy to the UN Li Baodong, meanwhile, said Beijing believed “that action taken by the council should be prudent, measured, proportionate and conducive to stability”.
North Korea responded swiftly, with a statement from its foreign minister carried by state news agency KCNA condemning the “extremely unfair” resolution as a violation of sovereign rights.
“We will take physical actions aimed at expanding and strengthening our self-defensive military forces, including nuclear deterrence,” it said.
It also stated that there would be “no dialogue to discuss denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”, in an apparent reference to long-stalled six-nation talks aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
In recent weeks reports from both the US and South Korea have described activity at North Korea’s nuclear test sites, sparking concerns North Korea could be preparing for a third test.
Pyongyang has conducted two nuclear tests, the first in 2006 and the second in 2009.
The US and North Korea’s neighbors fear Pyongyang’s ultimate goal is to put a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile that could target the west coast of the US, but it is not believed to have mastered the technology yet.
A United States institute has noticed that satellite images show that a ”major upgrade” is underway at North Korea’s rocket launch site Musudan-ri.
Work at the Musudan-ri site showed “rapid progress” since mid-2011, the analysis said.
The report came as Pyongyang accused Washington of trying to ”incite confrontation” over speculation it may carry out a third nuclear test.
North Korea ”never envisaged” such an act, said a foreign ministry spokesman.
The remarks followed a US warning that a nuclear test would lead to a “swift and sure response” from the region.
Glyn Davis, the US special envoy for North Korea policies, said on Monday that any such move by Pyongyang would be “a serious miscalculation”.
The satellite images, taken on 29 April of the Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground (also known as Musudan-ri) were analyzed by the 38north website of the US-Korea institute at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University.
A United States institute has noticed that satellite images show that a ''major upgrade'' is underway at North Korea's rocket launch site Musudan-ri
Citing fast progress on upgrading work, the analysis said: ”At the current pace of construction, the facilities should be operational by 2016-17.”
It also noted similarities between the North Korean buildings and those at Iran’s Semnan Missile and Space Center.
”Nevertheless, while the two countries have a long history of missile co-operation, it is too soon to tell whether that co-operation extends to the design and construction of this facility or the new long-range liquid-fuelled rocket,” it added.
Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear ambitions faced increased scrutiny in recent months, following the death of Kim Jong-Il last December and installation of his son Kim Jong-Un.
In the wake of North Korea’s failed rocket launch last month, South Korea also reported that preparations for a third nuclear test appeared to be under way.
In a statement on Tuesday, North Korea hit out at US comments on the possible test, saying the country had told the US that it was ”restraining” itself.
”From the beginning, we did not envisage such a military measure as a nuclear test as we planned to launch a scientific and technical satellite for peaceful purposes,” the ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by KCNA news agency.
There was still room for ”dialogue and negotiation” to resolve ”the nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula”, the spokesman added, but this could not happen unless the US ”rolls up its hostile policy” towards North Korea.
”If the US persists in its moves to ratchet up sanctions and pressure upon us despite our peace-loving efforts, we will be left with no option but to take counter-measures for self-defense,” the spokesman said.
The US Department of State declined to comment on the 38north analysis, but responded briefly to North Korea’s statement.
“We’re going to be guided not by what they say, but what they do,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing.