North Korea proposed its first talks with the U.S. in more than a year to discuss nuclear disarmament and a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, less than a week after it scrapped a meeting with the South.
Any talks must have no preconditions, an unidentified spokesman of North Korea’s National Defense Commission said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. North Korea confirmed its denuclearization commitment on the condition that it’s discussed as part of broader talks toward a “nuclear free world,” the commission headed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said.
The U.S. is unlikely to agree to today’s proposal after repeatedly demanding North Korea take steps toward disarmament as a condition for any dialogue. China, North Korea’s biggest benefactor, also has taken a tougher stance against Kim’s regime after it tested an atomic weapon in February and threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes in response to sanctions.
“Dialogue is our preferred outcome,” said Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, on today’s CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “Those talks have to be real.”
North Korea’s envoy Choe Ryong Hae told Chinese President Xi Jinping on May 24 his country wants to find ways to resolve its conflicts via talks. In a statement about Choe’s meeting with another top Chinese official in Beijing on May 23, the official Xinhua News Agency said the North “is willing to accept advice from the Chinese side and carry out dialogue.”
“There is no sincerity in North Korea’s offer today for dialogue with U.S., nor do the Americans have any reason to accept the proposal when the North shows no change in its stance regarding its nuclear weapons program,” Park Young Ho, senior research fellow at the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said by telephone today. “Ultimately, the offer is aimed to appease China, to show that the North is heeding Beijing’s calls for a return to dialogue.”
Today’s proposal is part of North Korea’s tactic to tell China “that it has been for peace and dialogue all along, while other involved parties are not,” Park said. “This is a strategic tactic to appear as if it is now ready to return to dialogue, after months of escalating tensions -- not a sincere sign of the North’s willingness to denuclearize.”
North Korea’s June 6 suggestion to hold “high-level” talks with South Korea over reopening a joint factory park came one day before the U.S. President Barack Obama met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in California. The leaders had “quite a bit of alignment” on stopping North Korea’s nuclear program, according to White House national security adviser Tom Donilon.
Park and Xi will hold their first summit meeting in Beijing on June 27-30, where the North Korean nuclear issue will be a central issue, according to Park’s office. Glyn Davies, the top U.S. envoy on North Korea, will hold talks with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts this week in Washington, according to the U.S. State Department, which had no immediate comment on North Korea’s proposal today.
“As we have made clear, our desire is to have credible negotiations with the North Koreans, but those talks must involve North Korea living up to its obligations to the world, including compliance with UN Security Council resolutions, and ultimately result in denuclearization,” said Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokeswoman, in an e-mailed statement.
North Korea’s relations with the outside world haven’t improved under Kim, who succeeded his father in 2011.
A rocket launch last year broke a food-aid deal agreed to with the U.S. in February 2012.
Kim’s regime unilaterally scrapped plans for a meeting last week with South Korea, which would have been the first such inter-Korean dialogue in six years, after a dispute over who would lead the two delegations. Both sides had agreed to discuss reopening the jointly run Gaeseong industrial complex, shuttered since the North withdrew its workers in April.
Proposing talks with the U.S. may be North Korea’s tactic to put pressure on the South, according to Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said by telephone today.
“Strategically, North Korea is saying it wants to settle the issues raised by the U.S., including denuclearization and peace talks, with the U.S.” and not with South Korea, he said.
The Obama administration and South Korean President Park Geun Hye’s government have emphasized the importance of the six-party process members in sending a unified message to the North. The U.S. has said North Korea must live up to past commitments to denuclearize before six-party negotiations, which last took place in 2008, can resume.
North Korea today proposed that talks with the U.S. include a formal peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War. U.S. Army Lieutenant General William Harrison signed the armistice on behalf of United Nations Command, which fought against North Korea in the war.
To contact the reporters on this story: Sangwon Yoon in Seoul at firstname.lastname@example.org; Rose Kim in Seoul at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at firstname.lastname@example.org