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North, South Korea to meet Sunday

SEOUL, South Korea – North and South Korea will meet Sunday at a village straddling their heavily armed border as the sides try to lower tension and restore projects once seen as symbols of their rapprochement, officials said.

The North delivered its agreement today to hold talks at Panmunjom through a Red Cross line restored a day earlier, the Unification Ministry said in a text message. Pyongyang had earlier favored its border city of Kaesong as the venue.

The agreement to hold the first government-level contact on the peninsula since early 2011 is the latest sign that tension is easing between the countries after Pyongyang threatened to attack South Korea and the United States with nuclear missiles earlier this year.

It also comes as President Barack Obama meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in California. Xi late last month met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s special envoy in Beijing and received a statement from him that Pyongyang was willing to return to dialogue.

Xi will meet South Korean President Park Geun-hye later this month.

China provides the lifeline for North Korea struggling with energy and other economic needs and views stability in Pyongyang as crucial for its own economy and border security. But after Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test in February, China tightened its cross-border trade inspections and banned its state banks from dealing with North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank.

The talks on Sunday could represent a change in North Korea’s approach, analysts said, or could simply be an effort to ease international demands that it end its development of nuclear weapons, a topic crucial to Washington but initially not a part of the envisioned inter-Korean meetings.

The Unification Ministry, which handles cross-border relations, said that the talks at Panmunjom are aimed at setting up higher-level talks on reopening a jointly run factory complex in the North and other cooperation projects. No other details on possible topics were released.

In April, Pyongyang pulled its 53,000 workers from the Kaesong industrial park just north of the border. Seoul withdrew its last personnel in May.