North Korea is demanding the withdrawal of U.N. sanctions and an end to joint U.S.-South Korean military drills before talks with Washington can begin.
The conditions were outlined Thursday by the North’s National Defense Commission, the country’s top military body, and carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
The statement could be seen as a possible sign Pyongyang is finally ready to consider dialogue, following weeks of threats against the United States and South Korea.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters the United States is open to “credible, authentic negotiations,” but that is “going to require clear signals from the North Korean regime, signals we have not seen so far.’’
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers in Washington Pyongyang’s statement seems to be a start, of sorts.
“I am prepared to look at that as at least a beginning gambit,” said Kerry. “Not acceptable, obviously, and we have to go further.”
A spokesperson, Cho Tai-young, for South Korea’s foreign ministry dismissed Pyongyang’s conditions as “absurd.”
“We again strongly urge North Korea to stop making such demands, which are hard to understand,” said Tai-young. “And we also urge them to make a wise choice, as we have repeatedly said before.”
Pyongyang is upset at tough U.N. sanctions passed in response to its long-range rocket launch in December and nuclear test in February. The Defense Commission statement, which was later broadcast on state television, called the sanctions “cooked up on ridiculous grounds.”
“They should take measures of retracting the U.N. Security Council’s resolution on sanctions. They should bear in mind that doing so would be a token of good will towards North Korea,” said the statement.
The statement also criticized joint military drills between Washington and Seoul, which Pyongyang views as preparation to invade its country. It said the drills will end if the U.S. and South Korea are serious about talks, insisting that “dialogue and war cannot co-exist.”
Washington, which says the drills are defensive in nature, has taken recent steps to reduce the visibility of the annual war games, out of concern that tensions on the Korean peninsula were reaching dangerous levels.
China Thursday urged North Korea to end its saber-rattling. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying also said denuclearizing the peninsula must remain a priority.
“We believe that dialogue and consultation is the only correct way to resolve matters on the Korean peninsula,” said Chunying. “The most pressing task is to step up diplomatic efforts and return as soon as possible to the correct path of dialogue and consultation. We hope for and support relevant parties improving relations through talks and appropriately resolving their issues.’’
Meanwhile, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says Pyongyang is playing a very dangerous game.
“I think that North Koreans should be warned – as I have warned them when I was in government and warn them now as a private citizen – that any use of such [nuclear] weapons, or if we think that those weapons are about to be used, then the North Koreans will be held to account. And we have a capacity to destroy that regime. And I think that’s what I would recommend we do if they ever use such a weapon,” said Powell.
Powell spoke at an investment forum Thursday in Moscow. He expressed some hope that the constant tensions may one day ease.
“I just hope that sooner or later they will realize there’s a better world for the people living in North Korea,” he said. “And I hope that the Chinese will do everything they can to move the North Koreans to that conclusion. So take it [North Korean threats] seriously, but he [Kim Jong-un] would be committing suicide if he ever used such a weapon, his regime would be committing suicide.’’
North Korea last week angrily rejected talks offered by the United States and South Korea aimed at defusing tensions, calling the move a “crafty trick.” U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon urged Pyongyang to reconsider, saying Wednesday he believed the offer is “genuine.”
The North has also threatened to carry out a medium-range missile test, which has kept U.S. and South Korean forces on a heightened state of alert. Thursday’s statement made no mention of the test, which U.S. officials have said could come at any time.
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