x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

North Korea proposes high-level nuclear and security talks with the US

Request comes just weeks after country threatens to start a nuclear war.

PYONGYANG // North Korea's top governing body yesterday proposed high-level nuclear and security talks with the United States in an appeal sent just days after calling off talks with South Korea.

The National Defence Commission, headed by the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, proposed "senior-level" talks to ease tensions and discuss a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War.

The rare proposal for talks between the Korean War foes follows months of acrimony over North Korea's defiant launch of a long-range rocket in December and a nuclear test in February, provocative acts that drew tightened United Nations and US sanctions.

The US and South Korea countered the moves by stepping up annual springtime military exercises that prompted North Korea to warn of a "nuclear war" on the peninsula.

However, as tensions subsided in May and June, Pyongyang has made tentative overtures to re-establish dialogue with South Korea and Washington. Foreign analysts said the impoverished North Korea often expresses interest in talks after raising tensions with provocative behaviour to win outside concessions.

In a notable shift in propaganda in Pyongyang, posters and billboards calling on North Koreans to "wipe away the American imperialist aggressors" have been taken down in recent weeks.

The US plans to meet South Korea and Japan in Washington tomorrow and Wednesday to discuss North Korea's offer, a senior administration official said.

"We will be meeting with our Japanese and South Korean partners in a trilateral setting, and this will be one of the subjects for discussion."

Meanwhile, a recent proposal from Pyongyang for cabinet-level talks with South Korea - the first in six years - led to plans for two days of meetings in Seoul last week. The talks fell apart on Tuesday over who would lead the two delegations.

North Korea fought against US-led UN and South Korean troops during the three-year Korean War in the early 1950s, and Pyongyang does not have diplomatic relations with the US and South Korean governments.

The Korean Peninsula remains divided by a heavily fortified border.

Reunifying the Korean Peninsula was a major goal of North Korea's two late leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, and is a legacy inherited by Kim Jong-un. North Korea is expected to draw attention to Korea's division in the weeks leading up to the 60th anniversary of the close of the Korean conflict, which ended in an armistice, in July. A peace treaty has never been signed formally ending the war.

Washington's top worry is North Korea's nuclear weapons programme. Pyongyang is estimated to have a handful of crude nuclear devices and has been working towards building a bomb it can mount on a missile capable of striking the US.

* Associated Press and Reuters