SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea must approach dialogue with South Korea with no strings attached if it genuinely wants to improve ties, a Seoul spokesman said Friday, after the communist state’s leader mooted bilateral talks.
Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong Un in his New Year speech said he was open to a summit with South Korea, but urged the United States and South Korea to stop their annual military exercises which he condemned as a “rehearsal of a nuclear war”.
“North Korea must come to dialogue without attaching preconditions if it genuinely wants to improve South-North ties,” Unification Ministry Spokesman Lim Byeong Cheol told journalists.
Lim ruled out the possibility of the South yielding to the North’s pressure to stop the military drills, saying, “As to the North’s unilateral demand for a halt to the South Korea-US military exercises, the government will cope with it from a principled position.”
South Korea and the United States hold a series of joint military exercises every year, including one that starts in late February, code-named Key Resolve/Foal Eagle.
Kim, however, said in his New Year message that any meaningful dialogue would be impossible under such “warlike atmosphere where war exercises targeting the other side are underway”.
He also said the South must stop pursuing reunification through absorbing the North and slandering the North’s communist regime.
The South on Monday offered cabinet minister-level talks with the North this month either in Pyongyang or in Seoul, but there has been no official response from Pyongyang.
Tensions tend to rise on the Korean peninsula in the spring as a result of the joint exercises and South Korean activists, mostly former defectors from North Korea, resuming launches of anti-Pyongyang leaflets by balloon across the border.
In October last year, North Korea border guards attempted to shoot down some balloons carrying such leaflets, triggering a brief exchange of heavy machine gun fire between the two sides.
The incident poured cold water on attempts to carry on an earlier agreement to resume high-level talks that had been suspended for seven months.