- - Thursday, February 2, 2012

NORTH KOREA

N. Korea opens door to talks with South

PYONGYANG | North Korea is open to immediate talks with rival South Korea if Seoul responds to several preconditions for dialogue, a North Korean military official told the Associated Press on Thursday.

Ri Son Gwon, a colonel working for the policy department of the North’s National Defense Commission, also challenged South Korea to “state to the world whether it honestly intends to enter into dialogue with us.”

The comments came a day after a senior U.S. diplomat said Washington is open to settling a nuclear standoff with North Korea through diplomacy if Pyongyang first improves ties with Seoul.

“The South speaks loudly of dialogue in public, but behind the scenes, it also says it cannot shake the principles that plunged North-South Korean ties into complete deadlock,” Col. Ri said in an interview in Pyongyang.

“If clear answers are given, dialogue will resume immediately,” he said. “The resumption of dialogue and the improvement of relations hinge completely on the willingness of the South’s government.”

In the form of an “open questionnaire,” the North’s defense commission laid out nine points for South Korea to respond to, including ending U.S.-South Korean military drills. The statement, however, backed away from earlier vows to shun Seoul’s conservative leader.

South Korea quickly called the statement “unreasonable.”

JAPAN

Snow paralyzes north; 3 die in avalanche

TOKYO | An avalanche killed three bathers at a hot spring in northern Japan, where heavy snow has paralyzed traffic and forced schools to close.

The deadly avalanche hit Thursday in Akita.

Officials said snowstorms have battered coastal cities along the Sea of Japan and large parts of northern Japan since late last year. Some areas have received more than twice as much snow as normal.

The snow has played a role in 56 deaths and more than 750 injuries since November. Most of those killed fell from rooftops while shoveling snow.

Story Continues →