On August 7, South Korea accepted the North's proposal for a new round of talks the next week to normalize operations at the inter-Korean industrial zone, which has been closed for four months now.
The Ministry of Unification said that the North's offer to hold working-level talks on August 14 following the failure of the previous six could be viewed positively.
"Seoul views the proposal as Pyongyang responding to repeated calls for dialogue from Seoul," ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said, adding, "We hope the North will engage in dialogue earnestly to contribute to the constructive growth of the complex."
He stressed that the format of the talks will not be changed, but details of what will be discussed cannot be made public at present.
All operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea have been halted since early April after the North pulled all of its 53,000 workers from the complex amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The North's offer, which the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) made in a statement, follows more than a week of silence on Seoul's demand for "final talks" to resolve all outstanding issues surrounding operations at the complex.
The final proposal made by Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae on July 28 warned of unspecified "grave" measures that could be taken by Seoul to limit the fallout of the idle complex on South Korean companies.
In the statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the CPRK said that the two sides should work together to prevent the site being closed down again. Pyongyang also offered safe passage to all South Koreans entering the complex. It, moreover, agreed to protect the property of all businesses at the zone. The temporary ban of operations announced by the North on April 8 will be lifted, and normal entry into the complex will be permitted, it added.
The CPRK said that the South should accept the talks offer without any precondition for all differences to be dealt with through dialogue.
South Korea insisted the North must first give solid assurances that no closure repeats will take place if progress is to be made at talks aimed at normalizing the Kaesong complex.
Government sources, meanwhile, refuted some allegation that by accepting the latest proposal for talks it may be backtracking on its previously held stance that no more talks on Kaesong can take place unless the North gives strong assurances it will not close the region unilaterally.
"Seoul accepted the latest CPRK proposal because it did not blame the South for the current impasse and did not make warnings of future arbitrary closures, which had been the North's stance in the past," said a ministry official, who did not wish to be identified.
He specifically said that the North did not warn it could still close down Kaesong if the South engaged in foul political actions or carried out military provocations. Such a warning was made in the sixth round of talks held in Kaesong late last month.
The North's latest offer on August 7 came shortly after Seoul said it would hand out 280.9 billion won (US$251.2 million) in insurance payments to 109 companies that invested in the industrial zone.
The payments, which will be made starting on August 8, are seen by some as the first step the government can take toward closing down the complex that remains the last symbol of rapprochement between the two Koreas.
Once insurance money is paid, ownership of the factories and other assets in the complex will come under the government's control, making it that much easier for policymakers to close the industrial park without worrying about businesses. The government said payments to companies will proceed without disruption.