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
According to Israeli military sources, the Syrian army has taken control of an UN-monitored crossing in the Golan Heights that had been overrun by rebel forces.
Tanks and armored vehicles were used in the fighting at Quneitra, near Israeli-held territory.
Austria has said it will withdraw its peacekeepers from the Golan Heights because of the fighting.
It comes a day after Syrian troops backed by Lebanese Hezbollah militants retook the key town of Qusair.
The involvement of Hezbollah and the upsurge of fighting near the ceasefire line with Israel in the Golan have both raised fears that the conflict could spread across Syria’s borders.
Rebels seized the crossing near the town of Quneitra earlier on Thursday, with explosions and heavy shelling rocking the area.
But an Israeli military source said Syrian government forces retook the symbolically significant position hours later, and that it was now relatively quiet in the area.
Two UN peacekeepers were wounded as fighting raged around the crossing and Quneitra.
Austria said it would withdraw its soldiers because the threat had “reached an unacceptable level”.
Austrian troops make up more than a third of the more than 900-strong UN force monitoring the demilitarized zone and Quneitra – the only open crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.
Israel expressed regret at Austria’s decision, and said it hoped it would not lead to “further escalation” in the region.
The UN said the withdrawal of Austrian troops would affect the mission’s operational capacity and it would look for replacements.
Syrian army has taken control of an UN-monitored crossing in the Golan Heights that had been overrun by rebel forces
Croatia, Canada and Japan had already withdrawn their contingents in the Golan because of the conflict in Syria.
Syria’s deployment of tanks in the demilitarized zone violates ceasefire agreements in place since the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.
Israel captured part of the plateau in 1967 and later annexed it in a move that has never been internationally recognized.
Israeli officials have voiced fears the civil war in Syria could spill over their borders. They are worried the Golan Heights could be used to launch attacks against Israel – either by Islamist extremists fighting for the rebels, or by Hezbollah militants fighting on the government side.
Hezbollah’s growing role in the conflict was highlighted by its involvement in the battle for Qusair, which government forces recaptured on Wednesday after a bitter siege.
Hezbollah is a political and military organization in Lebanon made up mainly of Shia Muslims.
It emerged with backing from Iran in the early 1980s when it fought Israeli forces in southern Lebanon and has always been a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Its involvement in Syria has heightened sectarian tensions across the region, and the US has called for it to withdraw.
Late on Wednesday several rockets landed in the Hezbollah stronghold of Baalbek inside Lebanon – after rebel threats to strike at Hezbollah on its home turf.
Qusair lies only 6 miles from the Lebanese border and is close to important supply routes for both the government and rebels.
As the battle for Qusair raged, fighting was continuing in most other parts of Syria, especially around the capital Damascus, where regime forces are trying to push the rebels back from the suburbs.
More than 80,000 people have been killed in Syria and more than 1.5 million have fled the country since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011, according to UN estimates.
International efforts to resolve Syria’s conflict continue, but the US and Russia have failed to set a date for proposed peace talks.
Meanwhile France has said that growing proof of chemical weapons use in Syria “obliges the international community to act”.
However, President Francois Hollande cautioned: “We can only act within the framework of international law.”
Kaesong Industrial Complex at the North-South Korea border is still operating despite Pyongyang cutting a military hotline with South Korea on Wednesday.
The hotline had been used mainly to facilitate cross-border travel at the Kaesong Industrial Complex for South Korean workers.
It was the last direct official link between the two nations.
Pyongyang has been angered by US-South Korea military drills, and the fresh UN sanctions that followed its third nuclear test in February.
Kaesong Industrial Complex at the North-South Korea border is still operating despite Pyongyang cutting a military hotline with South Korea
In recent weeks North Korea has made multiple threats against both the US and South Korea, including warning of a “pre-emptive nuclear strike” on the US and the scrapping of the Korean War armistice.
North Korea is not thought to have the technology to strike the US mainland with either a nuclear weapon or a ballistic missile, but it is capable of targeting some US military bases in Asia with its mid-range missiles.
More than 160 South Korean commuters went through border control on Thursday morning to start work at the complex, after being approved for entry by North Korea, officials said.
North Korean authorities had used a civilian phone line to arrange the crossing, they added.
Over 500 South Koreans are scheduled to cross the border in Kaesong in Thursday.
“We say that Kaesong industrial complex will go on running, even if the war breaks out. I don’t feel so nervous,” Jang Seon-woo, a South Korean worker, told AP news agency.
The joint project in Kesong, which was established as a sign of North-South co-operation, is a source of badly-needed hard currency for the North.
Around 120 South Korean firms operate at Kaesong industrial park, employing an estimated 50,000 North Korean workers.
There have been disputes and the North Koreans have, on occasion, blocked access across the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas, who remain technically at war.
North Korea has already cut both a Red Cross hotline and another line used to communicate with the UN Command at Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone.
An inter-Korean air-traffic hotline still exists between the two sides, according to reports.
Meanwhile, in a phone call on Wednesday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-Jin that the US would provide “unwavering” support to South Korea.
Chuck Hagel also told his South Korean counterpart that the US-South Korea alliance was “instrumental in maintaining stability on the Korean peninsula,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement.
On Tuesday, North Korea said it had ordered artillery and rocket units into “combat posture” to prepare to target US bases in Hawaii, Guam and the US mainland.
In a statement on Wednesday, North Korea’s official news agency KCNA also said that North Korea’s air force was ready to “wipe out” US military bases in Guam.
However, Guam Governor Eddie Baza Calvo described an attack as “unlikely” and urged residents not to let the threats “distract from [their] day-to-day lives”.
President Barack Obama has visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating South Korea from North Korea, amid rising tensions over the North’s planned rocket launch.
Barack Obama went to an observation post on the volatile border, and met US troops. The president will hold talks in Seoul later.
The US has voiced concern that the North Korea’s rocket launch due in April is a pretext for a missile test. Pyongyang says it wants to put a satellite into orbit.
On Monday, Barack Obama will attend a security summit in Seoul.
The conference in the South Korean capital will be attended by leaders from more than 50 nations.
The summit main focus will be preventing criminal or militant groups from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang’s nuclear programme is not officially on the agenda. But American officials have made it clear that President Barack Obama will be discussing the programmes of both North Korea and Iran in bilateral meetings with the Chinese and Russian presidents, our correspondent says.
North Korea is not taking part in the summit.
President Barack Obama has visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating South Korea from North Korea, amid rising tensions over the North's planned rocket launch
It was Barack Obama’s first visit to the DMZ, which has bisected the peninsula since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
The president told US troops serving there that they were protecting “freedom’s frontier”.
Earlier this week, Japan said it was readying its anti-missile defenses ahead of North Korea’s launch, expected between 12 and 16 April.
Pyongyang says the rocket – which would mark the 100th birthday of its late Great Leader Kim Il-Sung – would take a new southern trajectory instead of a previous route east over Japan.
US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell has said an area between Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines could be affected by the flight path.
North Korea has shown a growing mastery of ballistic technology during its three previous long-range tests.
However, experts say none has succeeded in reaching orbit, and debris has fallen to earth at various stages during the launches.
Last month North Korea offered a deal involving the freezing of its nuclear and long-rang missile programmes in return for US food aid.
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