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N. Korea lays down tough terms for talks

AFP
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Pyongyang calls for withdrawal of UN sanctions and guaranteed end to S.Korea-U.S. wargames

U.S soldiers participate in an annual military exercise in South Korea.Photo: AP
U.S soldiers participate in an annual military exercise in South Korea.Photo: AP

North Korea laid down rigid pre-conditions on Thursday for dialogue with Seoul or Washington, including the withdrawal of UN sanctions and a guaranteed end to South Korea-U.S. joint military drills.

The list of demands from the North's top military body was swiftly rejected as "incomprehensible" by South Korea which, together with the U.S., has made any talks conditional on the North taking steps towards denuclearisation.

Dialogue has become the new focus of a blistering rhetorical battle that has sent military tensions soaring on the Korean peninsula ever since the North carried out its third nuclear test in February.

Welcome move

Some analysts see the North's engagement in a debate over dialogue as a welcome shift from the apocalyptic threats of nuclear war that have poured out of Pyongyang in recent weeks.

The first step demanded by the North's National Military Commission was the withdrawal of "cooked up" UN sanctions that were imposed after the nuclear test in February.

The other main bone of contention has been ongoing joint South Korea-US military drills, which have involved the deployment of nuclear-capable B-52s and B-2 stealth bombers.

South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-Young called the North's pre-conditions "absurd" and said it was time for Pyongyang to choose engagement with the international community over provocation.

Seoul's earlier offer

South Korea's new president, Park Geun-Hye, has made tentative and conditional offers of talks, which received the backing of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during his recent Northeast Asia tour.

Both Park and Kerry stressed that any talks would have to be substantive and predicated on signals from North Korea that it "change its ways" and respect its international obligations, especially with its nuclear programme.

Intelligence reports suggest the North has two Musudan missiles primed to fire from its east coast, and most observers had predicted a launch on or around April 15, the birthday of the North's late founder Kim Il-Sung.AFP


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