North Korea and South Korea decided Friday to hold talks at the demilitarized border next week, making it the first meeting since the armed standoff between the two sides ended in August. The meeting proposed by Pyongyang is set to take place in the Panmunjom truce village, in the southern part of North Korea, next Thursday.
The meeting would be part of an implementation of the inter-Korean deal, which was signed on Aug. 25 to reduce military tensions. The troubles between the two countries escalated in August after a land mine explosion in the neutral area of the demilitarized zone, for which South Korea blamed Pyongyang. Two South Korean soldiers were injured in the incident, for which North Korea has denied responsibility.
"The two sides plan to discuss details over high-level talks, including the timing and venue," said an official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry, according to Yonhap News Agency.
Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University, said, according to Yonhap: "At next week's talks, the North will likely call on Seoul to lift its sanctions against the North and to reopen the Kumgang tour program. The South is expected to raise the issue of family reunions."
Earlier, North Korea had reportedly called for pre-set conditions -- including lifting South Korea’s sanctions against it and resumption of the joint tour program at Mount Kumgang on North Korea's east coast -- when Seoul made similar offers for a meeting. But, South Korea said it would enter into talks with North Korea without any strings attached.
In October, the two Koreas also conducted reunion of families, separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, as part of the August deal. Last week, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said she was open to a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if the latter agreed to give up nuclear weapons and focus sincerely on inter-Korean ties.
"The North's offer for dialogue appears to be aimed at taking the initiative over inter-Korean affairs," Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said, according to Yonhap, adding: "Ahead of a planned party congress slated for May, the North seems to show that it is leading efforts to bring peace to the peninsula."
North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013, and a report last month by the South Korean spy agency said the country is getting ready for a fourth one. North Korea said in September that it has restarted and upgraded its atomic fuel plants.