- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 19, 2009

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - South Korea on Sunday accepted North Korea’s proposal for talks on a joint industrial park, setting up the first high-level dialogue between the two countries in a year amid tensions over the North’s rocket launch.

Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said officials of the two Koreas plan to meet in the border town of Kaesong on Tuesday to discuss the factory complex.

The industrial park on the northern side of the border is the last major joint project between the rival Koreas and a key source of currency for the impoverished North’s communist regime.

The meeting comes amid rising tensions on the Korean peninsula over the North’s rocket launch and its detention of a South Korean man in Kaesong accused of denouncing the North’s political system.

North Korea has expelled international monitors, vowed to quit six-nation disarmament talks and restart its nuclear program to protest the U.N. Security Council’s condemnation of the April 5 launch.

North Korea insists it sent a satellite into space, but regional powers say nothing reached orbit and the launch was actually a test of long-range missile technology.

“We will thoroughly ensure that the inter-Korean contact will be made in a way that secures the safety of people and contributes to the development of the Kaesong complex,” Lee said.

Sunday’s announcement came a day after North’s Korea’s military repeated a warning for South Korea to stay out of a U.S.-led security initiative aimed at halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

An unidentified North Korean military spokesman said South Korea’s full participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative would be seen “as a declaration of undisguised confrontation and a declaration of a war” against North Korea.

South Korea, which has been an observer, had planned to officially announce its full participation Sunday, but decided on a delay following the North’s proposal of a meeting, a Foreign Ministry official said Saturday on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

South Korea has said the program is not specifically targeted at North Korea, but the North says it is part of a U.S. attempt to topple its communist regime.

The program, which began in 2003, has been joined by more than 90 countries to help deter trade in weapons of mass destruction and missiles by states including North Korea and Iran.

Countries participating in the initiative exchange intelligence and hold maritime drills to stop and search ships suspected of carrying nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, materials to make them or missiles to deliver them.

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