PYONGYANG, North Korea – 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 high-level talks to ease tensions and promote peace and security on the Korean Peninsula. There was no immediate response from Washington.
The 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.
A proposal for Cabinet-level talks with South Korea – the first in six years – led to initial plans for two days of meetings in Seoul earlier this week, but the plans fell apart over disagreement 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 Korean 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 formally ending the war.
Foreign analysts say impoverished North Korea often expresses interest in talks after raising tensions with provocative behavior in order to win outside concessions.
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 itself against what it sees as a U.S. nuclear threat in Korea and the region.
Denuclearization must include “denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula, including South Korea, and putting an absolute end to the U.S.’s nuclear threat against us,” a spokesman from the National Defense Commission said in a Korean-language statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency. “The U.S. should stop nuclear threats and lies on North Korea and end all forms of provocations including sanctions.”
Associated Press writer Youkyung Lee contributed to this story from Seoul, South Korea.