North starts ‘talks offer’ offensive against South

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North starts ‘talks offer’ offensive against South

North Korea late Wednesday suggested “unconditional” talks with South Korea, a gesture that China welcomed as getting a step closer to the resumption of six-party talks. But reaction from Seoul and Washington was tepid.

The Ministry of Unification called the offer insincere and demanded anew an apology for the North’s recent attacks.

“We call for an unconditional and early opening of talks between the authorities having real power and responsibility,” said a statement issued by the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency. “We are ready to meet anyone, anytime and anywhere, letting bygones be bygones.”

The proposal is the latest conciliatory gestures from the North as the U.S. and other relevant parties accelerate diplomatic moves for the resumption of six-party talks on denuclearizing the communist country. Pyongyang stressed inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation in a recent New Year’s editorial run by state media.

“We support and welcome relevant parties to have contact and dialogue,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters yesterday. “We hope relevant parties make joint efforts to resume the six-party talks at an early date.” In November, China, the host of the stalled negotiations, proposed a new round of talks and tried to get South Korea, the U.S., Japan and Russia interested. Analysts say the resumption of talks would mark the end of the latest crisis on the peninsula, which began with the sinking of the Cheonan in March and escalated after North Korea shelled Yeonpeong Island in November.

Seoul also brought up inter-Korean talks at the end of last month, but officials said yesterday that they should not allow the North to evade responsibility for its wrongdoings.

“We do not consider this is a serious proposal for dialogue,” said a Ministry of Unification official.

The official said the North should first apologize for the two provocations last year, including the Yeonpyeong shelling, which killed four South Koreans, and take “sincere” steps toward abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman Kim Young-sun said at a media briefing yesterday that the relevant ministries are reviewing the North’s proposal together.

“The government has stressed, in principle, that it is necessary for North Korea to show a sincere attitude on inter-Korean dialogue and inter-Korean relationship,” Kim said.

The U.S. was seemingly trying to narrow differences of opinions on restarting the six-party talks ahead of a summit between Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao on Jan. 19 in Washington. U.S. special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, met Chinese officials in Beijing yesterday after meeting with Seoul officials on Wednesday.

By Moon Gwang-lip []
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