North Korea seeks talks without preconditions to ease tensions

North Korea’s top diplomat said Tuesday that the U.S. must accept its offer for dialogue without preconditions if it wants to ease tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula. He drew a quick rebuttal from his South Korean counterpart, who said the international community has made clear that Pyongyang must give up its nuclear ambitions if it wants better relations.

The Koreas were among 27 nations at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in Brunei, where the North’s nuclear weapons program was a key topic, along with other hot-button regional issues.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the U.S., South Korea, Japan and China – North Korea’s chief ally – were “absolutely united” in their insistence on a denuclearized North Korea. Washington says Pyongyang must move in that direction before it will agree to talks, but North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun said during the conference Tuesday that it is America that must act.

“The U.S. must positively respond to our sincere and courageous decision (to offer talks) without preconditions if it is truly interested in ending the vicious circle of intensifying tension on the Korean Peninsula and safeguarding peace and stability,” Pak said, according to North Korean delegation official Choe Myong Nam.

Pak said that “a touch-and-go situation in which a war can break out anytime is fostered” on the Korean Peninsula, and that U.S. hostility against the North was primarily responsible for that.

Shortly after Choe spoke, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told reporters that most diplomats at the forum expressed a “very strong message” to the North Korean delegation that Pyongyang must scrap its nuclear program and refrain from launching another provocation. “So they must have listened to this message very, very seriously,” he said.

On Tuesday, senior North Korean nuclear strategist and First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan left for Russia. Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov as saying he’ll meet with Kim in Moscow on Thursday to discuss the possibility of resuming the six-party talks.

The nuclear disarmament talks – which involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia – have been stalled since North Korea quit the negotiations in 2009 to protest international condemnation over a rocket launch.

AP

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