x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

North Korea lays out tough pre-conditions for talks

The demands laid out by the North's main military body include the withdrawal of UN sanctions and a permanent end to South Korea-US joint military drills.

SEOUL // North Korea yesterday offered talks with South Korea and the United States, but laid out pre-conditions that Seoul dismissed as "absurd" and analysts said would do little to reduce tensions.

The demands laid out by the North's main military body included the withdrawal of UN sanctions and a permanent end to South Korea-US joint military drills.

The offer followed a month of increasingly hostile exchanges between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington that have included threats of nuclear war and precision missile strikes.

The North's conditions were swiftly rejected by South Korea which, together with the US, has made any talks conditional on the North putting its nuclear weapons programme on the table.

"North Korea's demands are totally incomprehensible. It's absurd," foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-Young told reporters.

Dialogue has become the new focus of the blistering rhetorical battle that has trapped the Korean peninsula in an escalating cycle of military tensions ever since the North carried out its third nuclear test in February.

South Korea's new president, Park Geun-hye, has made tentative -- and conditional -- offers of talks, but the North's initial response was to swat them away as a "crafty trick".

Some analysts see the North's engagement in a debate over dialogue -- no matter how unrealistic the conditions -- as a welcome shift from the apocalyptic threats that have been pouring out of Pyongyang.

"It's an initial show of strength in a game of tug-of-war that at least shows a desire to have a dialogue down the line," said Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.