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North sets conditions for talks

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A South Korean SWAT member restrains a soldier acting as a North Korean guerilla during a drill on Wednesday.— Photo: AFP
A South Korean SWAT member restrains a soldier acting as a North Korean guerilla during a drill on Wednesday.— Photo: AFP

North Korea on Thursday demanded the lifting of U.N. sanctions and the end of U.S.-South Korea military drills as conditions for resuming talks, meant to defuse tension on the Korean Peninsula.

The statement from the Policy Department of the National Defence Commission, the country’s top governing body, came four days after Pyongyang rejected Seoul’s latest dialogue offer as insincere.

The United States says it is prepared to talk to the North but Pyongyang must first bring down tensions and honour previous disarmament agreements.

The statement said the U.S. must also withdraw all nuclear weapons assets from South Korea and the region before the talks can resume. It said South Korea must stop all anti-North Korea talks, such as its recent announcement blaming Pyongyang for a cyberattack for which it has denied responsibility.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the North’s demand as illogical. “We again strongly urge North Korea to stop this kind of insistence that we cannot totally understand and go down the path of a wise choice,” spokesman Cho Tai-young told reporters.

But in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry put a more positive spin on Pyongyang’s response.

“It’s the first word of negotiation or thought of that we have heard from them since all of this has begun,” he told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. “I’m prepared to look at that as at least a beginning, not acceptable obviously, and we have to go further.” — AP

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