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North Korea’s Kim ‘open to dialogue’ with South Korea 02-01-2018


SEOUL (Reuters) – Kim Jong Un warned the United States on Monday he had a “nuclear button” on his desk ready for use if North Korea was threatened, but offered an olive branch to South Korea, saying he was “open to dialogue” with Seoul.

After a year dominated by fiery rhetoric and escalating tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, the North Korean leader used his televised New Year’s Day speech to declare his country “a peace-loving and responsible nuclear power” and call for lower military tensions and improved ties with the South.

“When it comes to North-South relations, we should lower the military tensions on the Korean Peninsula to create a peaceful environment,” Kim said. “Both the North and the South should make efforts.”

Kim said he would consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.

“North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to showcase the national pride and we wish the Games will be a success. Officials from the two Koreas may urgently meet to discuss the possibility,” Kim said.

South Korea said it welcomed Kim’s offer. But U.S.-based experts saw Kim’s speech as a clear attempt to divide Seoul from its main ally, Washington, which has led an international campaign to pressure North Korea through sanctions to give up weapons programs aimed at developing nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States.

“We have always stated our willingness to talk with North Korea anytime and anywhere if that would help restore inter-Korean relations and lead to peace on the Korean Peninsula,” a spokesman for the South Korean presidency said.

Lee Hee-beom, president of the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee, said it welcomed North Korean participation and would “discuss relevant matters with the South Korean government as well as the International Olympic Committee.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said North Korea’s participation would ensure the safety of the Olympics and proposed last month that Seoul and Washington postpone large military drills that the North denounces as a rehearsal for war until after the Games.

Asked to comment on Kim’s speech, U.S. President Donald Trump said: “We’ll see, we’ll see,” as he walked into a New Year’s Eve celebration at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

‘POKES AT THE FISSURE’

The U.S. State Department did not respond to a requests for comment on Kim’s New Year’s address, but analysts said it was an attempt to weaken the U.S.-South Korean alliance.

“This speech pokes at the fissure that has lain below the surface in U.S.-South Korean relations, and seems designed to drive a wedge there,” said Douglas Paal, a former senior U.S. diplomat who heads the Asia program at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“President Moon needs a successful Olympics and the U.S. drive to increase pressure fits poorly with the Southern agenda.”

Evans Revere, another former senior U.S. diplomat who took part in unofficial talks with North Korean officials last year, said Pyongyang would likely try to extract concessions as a “price” for Olympics participation.

“It’s hard to imagine Seoul falling for this,” he said, adding that Seoul and Washington had so far stayed in synch in the pressure and isolation campaign.

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves to people attending a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Revere said Kim’s speech contained the strongest defense yet of North Korea’s status as a permanently nuclear-armed country.

“Implicit in Kim Jong Un’s speech is a willingness to engage with others, including the United States, on the basis of their acceptance of the ‘reality’ of North Korea’s permanent nuclear status. That’s not a basis on which the United States is prepared to engage,” he said.

Moon took office last May pledging to engage Pyongyang in dialogue. But North Korea snubbed his overtures, including an offer to hold inter-Korean military talks about ceasing hostile activities along the border, as it tested missiles at an unprecedented pace.

Kim said that rather than encouraging U.S. measures that “threaten the security and peace of the Korean peninsula,” Seoul should instead respond to overtures from the North, and “stop nuclear war exercises with foreign forces.”

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South Korea offers talks with North ahead of Olympics
Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Tuesday offered talks with North Korea next week amid a standoff over its weapons programs, a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was open to negotiations but that his country would push ahead with “mass producing” nuclear warheads.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has led a global drive to pressure North Korea to give up development of nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the United States, held back judgment on Pyongyang’s offer to talk, saying: Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not – we will see!”

The offer for high-level talks next Tuesday had been discussed with the United States, South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myong-gyon said, while a decision on whether to push back massive joint military drills until after the Winter Olympics which South Korea hosts next month is pending.

Cho suggested the talks be held at the border village of Panmunjom and said they should be focused on North Korea’s participation at the Olympics, but other issues would likely arise, including the denuclearisation of North Korea.

“We look forward to candidly discussing interests from both sides face-to-face with North Korea along with the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics,” Cho told reporters.

“I repeat: The government is open to talking with North Korea, regardless of time, location and form.”

Should the talks be held, it would be the first such dialogue since a vice-ministerial meeting in December 2015.

Tension has been rising over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, which it pursues in defiance of years of U.N. Security Council resolutions, with bellicose rhetoric coming from both Pyongyang and the White House. North Korea sees regular war drills between South Korea and the United States as preparations for war.

But Kim said in a New Year’s Day speech he was “open to dialogue” with Seoul, and for North Korean athletes to possibly take part in the Winter Games, but he persistently declared North Korea a nuclear power.

The White House has yet to offer a detailed response to the speech, which analysts saw as an attempt to weaken the U.S.-South Korean alliance and the U.S. led campaign to raise pressure on Pyongyang through sanctions.

A State Department spokesman said Washington was “in close contact with (South Korea) about our unified response to North Korea” and added: “We are confident in (South Korea‘s) commitment to hosting a safe and successful Olympic Winter Games.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in welcomed Kim’s address and asked his government to move as quickly as possible to bring North Korea to the Olympics, but he stressed that an improvement in inter-Korean relations “cannot go separately with resolving North Korea’s nuclear program”.

People look toward the north through a barbed-wire fence near the militarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Trump said sanctions and other pressures were starting to have a big impact on North Korea. “Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time,” he said on Twitter, using his nickname for Kim. “Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not – we will see!”

China, which has persistently urged a return to talks to ease tensions, said recent positive comments from North and South Korea were a good thing.

“China welcomes and supports North Korea and South Korea taking earnest efforts to treat this as an opportunity to improve mutual relations, promote the alleviation of the situation on the Korean peninsula and realize denuclearisation on the peninsula,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

‘DEEP BREATH’ NEEDED

Slideshow (2 Images)
Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean national security adviser, criticized Seoul for reacting so quickly to Kim.

“I regret the government had even lost the flexibility to spend one day or two taking a deep breath and meticulously analyzing Kim Jong Un’s ulterior motive before hastily issuing a welcoming statement,” he said.

“The government will have to strive more to come up with a countermeasure not to get caught in a trap set by Kim Jong Un.”

Choi Moon-soon, governor of Gangwon Province where the Olympics are to be held next month, has proposed South Korea send cruise ships to bring North Korean athletes and officials to Pyeongchang, according to South Korean media.

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