North calls for better U.S. relations

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North calls for better U.S. relations

In its joint annual newspaper commentary to open the new year, North Korea yesterday called for an end to hostile relations with the United States and insisted on building a “nuclear-free” Korean Peninsula through dialogue.

The stance represented a decidedly different tone from a year ago, when the North slammed South Korea for escalating tension.

In an editorial published in three newspapers representing the ruling Workers’ Party, the North Korean military and its youth militia, North Korea did not issue any threat or offer criticism of South Korea.

Instead, the North called for a peaceful peninsula.

“It is the consistent stand of the DPRK to establish lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and make it nuclear-free through dialogue and negotiations,” the editorial read, referring to North Korea by its official name. “Unshakable is our stand that we will improve north-south relations and open the way for national reunification”

The editorial, published at the beginning of each year, provides a glimpse into the North’s policies for the given year, and is closely monitored by the South.

North Korea also said it was committed to improving its relations with the United States. The editorial read, “The fundamental task for ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the rest of Asia is to put an end to the hostile relationship between the DPRK and the USA.”

The North has previously justified its nuclear arms possession as a deterrent against U.S. threats.

The South Korean government seemed to take this year’s editorial with a grain of salt. A government official said that while the absence of criticism toward the South is a positive sign, the North has been traveling on a similar path since August.

He was referring to a time when the North offered to resume suspended tourism to Mount Kumgang and agreed to host reunions of separated families. Pyongyang, however, has mixed its soft posturing with a naval provocation in November and new military threats in December.

“It’s difficult to find things that can be interpreted as a step toward sincere dialogue and new inter-Korean relations, which are what South Korea wants,” the official said. “Rather than taking an optimistic view, we should keep a close eye on any change to the North’s attitude on South Korea in the near future.”

Conspicuous by its absence for the second straight year was the North’s demand for the withdrawal of the U.S. forces in South Korea and for the termination of the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises. In fact, military-related issues took a backseat to the economy. In the past two years, the North’s political ideology and national defense overshadowed the economy.

North Korea has set out to become a prosperous economy by the year 2012, and this year would be a crucial one for Pyongyang to establish a foundation for economic growth. It carried out its first currency revaluation in 17 years in November to control inflation and to reassert the state’s stranglehold on the economy.

Military officials in Seoul, however, warned that the North will continue to issue threats and provocations and that a certain degree of tension will remain.

By Yoo Jee-ho []

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