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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 258 (April 18, 2013)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

Pyongyang Leaves Open Possibility of Dialogue with Seoul, Washington

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Despite its repeated bellicose rhetoric against South Korea and the United States, North Korea said it is open to dialogue with them, but not as long as Washington is "brandishing a nuclear stick," adding that Seoul should apologize for "all of its anti-North Korean acts."

   While Washington insisted that the burden for renewed negotiations now rests with Pyongyang, North Korea warned it will intensify unspecified "military countermeasures" unless the U.S. stops conducting military drills on the Korean Peninsula and withdraws the military assets that Pyongyang says threaten the North with a nuclear attack.

   Nonetheless, North Korea left open the possibility of dialogue with South Korea although the Supreme Command of the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA) warned on April 16 that it would launch a retaliation against South Korea if the South continues with its anti-North Korean activities. But Pyongyang's "ultimatum" statement has significance in that the Kim Jong-un regime mentioned inter-Korean talks for the first time amid heightened tensions on the peninsula.

   The military statements came amid international fears that the North is preparing to conduct a medium-range missile test and also as North Korea marked the festivities in honor of the April 15 birthday of its national founder Kim Il-sung.

   The renewed vitriol began after an April 15 protest by about 250 people in downtown Seoul, where effigies of Kim Il-sung and his late son and successor, Kim Jong-il were burned. Some analysts suggested North Korea was using it as a pretext to reject calls for dialogue with the South, at least for the time being.

   The North's statement said it would refuse any offers of talks with the South until it apologized for the "monstrous criminal act."

   Later in the day, its state media quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying North Korea has no intention of holding talks with the U.S. unless it also abandons its hostility against the North.

   North Korea is not opposed to dialogue but has no intention of "sitting at the humiliating negotiating table with the party brandishing a nuclear stick," the statement said.

   "The DPRK (North Korea) is not opposed to dialogue but has no idea of sitting at the humiliating negotiating table with the party brandishing a nuclear stick," the North's Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state news agency, the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   The statement, released by an unnamed spokesman, marked the clearest response yet to the recent U.S. offer of talks aimed at easing months of heightened tensions. It also signaled Pyongyang may be trying to create favorable conditions for the possible resumption of talks.

   On his trip to Northeast Asia last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Washington is prepared to talk with Pyongyang if it shows seriousness about denuclearization.

   At each stop along his trip to Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo, Kerry stressed that the United States wanted a peaceful resolution of the North Korea situation six decades after a cease-fire ended the Korean War.

   But North Korea on April 14 served a reminder of the difficult task ahead. Its Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said the government had no intention of talking with Seoul unless the South abandons its confrontational posture, as the North called it.

   North Korea denounced an offer of dialogue by South Korean President Park Geun-hye to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula as a "cunning ploy," implicitly rejecting any dialogue with Seoul for the time being. President Park said her administration would talk with North Korea as part of efforts to build trust, which Park labels as a "Korean Peninsula Trustpolitik process."

   Park offered talks as operations at an inter-Korean industrial park in the North's border city of Kaesong grounded to a halt last week. Pyongyang banned South Korean managers from entering the park on April 3 amid sky-high tensions over weeks of warlike threats from North Korea.

   The offer of dialogue is "a cunning ploy to hide the South's policy of confrontation and mislead its responsibility for putting the Kaesong Industrial Complex into a crisis," said a spokesman for the North's committee in an article carried by the North's state news agency. The North's committee also described the South's offer of dialogue as an "empty shell," but stressed that it will be up to South Korea whether or not inter-Korean dialogue could happen in the future.

   Seoul had pressed North Korea to discuss restarting operations at a joint factory park on the border and President Park Geun-hye has stressed peace opportunities after taking power from her more hard-line predecessor, Lee Myung-bak. The presidency expressed regret with North Korea's rebuttal on April 14.

   Kerry's remarks were in line with Washington's long-standing policy on Pyongyang, but those were understood to be a sort of formal proposal for dialogue amid worries about a possible armed conflict.

   The North's foreign ministry accused the U.S. of seeking to pass the blame for the stand-off. "Recently U.S. high-ranking officials are vying with each other to talk about dialogue," it said. "This is nothing but a crafty ploy to evade the blame for the tension on the eve of a war by pretending to refrain from military actions and stand for dialogue."

   The ministry compared Washington's suggestion for dialogue to a "robber's calling for a negotiated solution while brandishing his gun."

   "Worse still, the U.S. claims that it will opt for dialogue when the DPRK (North Korea) shows its will for denuclearization first is a very impudent hostile act of disregarding the line of the Workers' Party of Korea and the law of the DPRK," an unnamed spokesman for the foreign ministry said.

   "Dialogue should be based on the principle of respecting sovereignty and equality -- this is the DPRK's consistent stand," it read. "Genuine dialogue is possible only at the phase where the DPRK has acquired nuclear deterrent enough to defuse the U.S. threat of nuclear war unless the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy and nuclear threat and blackmail against the former."

   North Korea has been apparently seeking nuclear power status for the stated goal of negotiating a peace treaty formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War. "The DPRK will escalate its military countermeasures for self-defense unless the U.S. ceases its nuclear war drills and withdraws all its war hardware for aggression," added the statement.

   The U.S. government reiterated that the ball is in the North Korean court. "The burden remains on Pyongyang, which needs to take meaningful steps to show that they'll honor their commitments," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters in Washington. "And so they know what they need to do to start showing that."

   Analysts say there is a wide gap between Pyongyang and Washington on what should be discussed if talks resume.

   The two sides seem to be in a tug-of-war for the terms of starting talks after playing a game of chicken for the past weeks, they contend. "The Obama administration already is seeking more room to pursue another round of negotiations with North Korea," said Larry Niksch, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

   In particular, Kerry is still optimistic about negotiating a deal with North Korea that achieves denuclearization. "If China presses harder for a new six-party meeting, Kerry probably would argue within the Obama administration for accepting the Chinese proposal," Niksch said.
"Kerry also hinted that he might seek to send a special U.S. envoy to North Korea. So, there may be another round of U.S.-North Korean nuclear negotiations later this year." Niksch expressed skepticism, however, that talks will produce any positive results.

   Kerry, known as an advocate of dialogue for diplomatic standoffs, reportedly signaled his willingness to dispatch an envoy to the young North Korean leader. "We're prepared to reach out" to Kim at "the appropriate moment and (under) the appropriate circumstances," Kerry was quoted by the Washington Post as telling reporters at the end of his 10-day world tour. "It may be that somebody will be asked to sit down."

   Still, the heavily militarized country did not push ahead with a widely expected missile launch nor stage a military parade to celebrate the North Korean founder's 101st birthday. Kim Jong-un instead paid tribute to him and his deceased father, Kim Jong-il, at the Kumsusan Palace where their embalmed bodies are displayed, along with senior aides.

   While calling for change in the North's course, South Korea and the U.S. are also seen sticking to their dialogue offer.

   Seoul's foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young said at a briefing that dialogue with Pyongyang was aimed at "realizing the denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful way."

   A Unification Ministry official called the KPA statement "incomprehensible, inappropriate behavior." "The government's position is to urge North Korea's right choice and sincere attitude toward dialogue," he told reporters on condition of anonymity.

   Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama said in an interview aired on April 16 that he did not believe North Korea could yet arm a missile with a nuclear warhead but predicted new provocations from Pyongyang.

   Obama also said he hoped that the isolated state would eventually stand down and use diplomacy to address its perceived grievances.

   The president was asked in the interview with NBC's Today Show whether Pyongyang currently had the capability to arm a ballistic missile with a nuclear bomb.

   "Based on our current intelligence assessments we do not think they have that capacity," Obama said in the interview. "But we have to make sure that we are dealing with every contingency out there and that's why I've repositioned missile defense systems to guard against any miscalculation on their part."

   A U.S. lawmaker last week quoted a report from the military's Defense Intelligence Agency saying Pyongyang may have succeeded in the technologically difficult task of making a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on a warhead.