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North Korea proposes high-level talks with U.S.
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea’s top governing body on Sunday proposed high-level nuclear and security talks with the United States in an appeal sent just days after calling off talks with rival South Korea.
The powerful National Defense Commission, headed by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, issued a statement through state media proposing “senior-level” talks to ease tensions and discuss a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War.
There was no immediate response from Washington, but President Obama’s envoy on North Korea said Friday that while the U.S. is not averse to talking with Pyongyang, the bar for resuming engagement is higher in the wake of repeated nuclear threats and provocations.
Foreign analysts expressed skepticism, saying impoverished North Korea often calls for talks after raising tensions with provocative behavior in order to win outside concessions.
The rare proposal for talks between the Korean War foes follows months of acrimony over North Korea’s defiant launch of a long-range rocket in December and a nuclear test in February, provocative acts that drew tightened U.N. and U.S. sanctions. The U.S. and South Korea countered the moves by stepping up annual springtime military exercises that prompted North Korea to warn of a “nuclear war” on the Korean Peninsula.
However, as tensions subsided in May and June, Pyongyang has made tentative overtures to re-establish dialogue with South Korea and Washington.
In a notable shift in propaganda in Pyongyang, posters and billboards calling on North Koreans to “wipe away the American imperialist aggressors” have been taken down in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, a recent proposal from Pyongyang for Cabinet-level talks with South Korea — the first in six years — led to plans for two days of meetings in Seoul earlier this week. The talks dramatically fell apart even before they began amid bickering over who would lead the two delegations.
North Korea fought against U.S.-led United Nations and South Korean troops during the three-year Korean War in the early 1950s, and Pyongyang does not have diplomatic relations with either government. The Korean Peninsula remains divided by a heavily fortified border.
Reunifying the peninsula was a major goal of North Korea’s two late leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, and is a legacy inherited by current leader Kim Jong-un. North Korea is expected to draw attention to Korea‘s division in the weeks leading up to the 60th anniversary in July marking the close of the Korean conflict, which ended in an armistice. A peace treaty has never been signed to formally end the war.
As Pyongyang continues to shun disarmament and shut out nuclear inspectors, Washington’s top worry is North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang is estimated to have a handful of crude nuclear devices and has been working toward building a bomb it can mount on a missile capable of striking the United States.
Earlier this year, Kim Jong-un enshrined the drive to build a nuclear arsenal, as well as building the economy, as national goals. North Korea claims the need to build atomic weapons to defend the country against what it sees as a U.S. nuclear threat in Korea and the region.
North Korea will not give up its nuclear ambitions until the entire Korean Peninsula is free of nuclear weapons, a spokesman from the National Defense Commission said in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency.
“The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula does not only mean ‘dismantling the nuclear weapons of the North‘” but also should involve “denuclearizing the whole peninsula, including South Korea, and aims at totally ending the U.S. nuclear threats” to North Korea, the spokesman said.
The U.S. denies having nuclear bombs in South Korea, saying they were removed in 1991. However, the U.S. military keeps nuclear submarines in the region and has deployed them for military exercises with South Korea.
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