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(News Focus) N. Korea in tug of war over dialogue terms with S. Korea, U.S.
By Lee Joon-sung
SEOUL, April 18 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is seemingly engaged in a war of nerves with both South Korea and the United States over preconditions for talks aimed at easing inter-Korean tensions that have soared to new highs after Pyongyang detonated it third nuclear device in February, observers here said Thursday.

   The speculation comes as the communist country, which rejected calls for talks made by both Seoul and Washington earlier in the week, released two statements demanding an immediate halt to all hostile acts as the first step to meaningful dialogue.

   The North's powerful National Defense Commission and the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK), charged with carrying out negotiations with the South, separately touched on the possibility of talks, even though Pyongyang on Wednesday called for "decisive action" to avenge insults on its leadership committed by anti-communist groups in Seoul.

   The policy department at the defense committee said all military exercises, including dress rehearsals for a nuclear attack, must be halted immediately for all sides to come to the negotiating table. It said punitive sanctions imposed by the United Nations need to be rescinded, and all means to launch a nuclear conflict must be barred from being deployed in the region once and for all.


Pyongyang claimed the Foal Eagle exercises that will run through the end of April is aimed at invading the North using conventional and nuclear weapons.

   The CPRK's spokesman's announcement echoed this view by stressing inter-Korean relations will never improve as long as South Korea and the United States conduct military maneuvers that target the North.

   North Korean analysts said the two statements effectively mean that Pyongyang views the cessation of what it calls hostile actions as preconditions for any future dialogue.

   Chang Yong-seok, senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, said once the Foal Eagle exercises are concluded, there is a chance that Pyongyang will tone down its saber rattling and announce what it wants from its adversaries.

   "Instead of going all out to ramp up tensions, there is a good chance the North may switch back and forth from calling for talks and making threats (to win concessions)," he said.

   The comments by the organizations are also a repeat of the country's unwillingness to accept conditions laid out by Seoul and Washington for the foundation of future talks.

   The defense commission argued the North's nuclear deterrent is a means of protecting the country and acts as a safeguard against Washington's intimidation tactics. Calling on the North to abide by past denuclearization pacts is a ridiculous demand, it said.

   South Korean President Park Geun-hye has repeatedly made clear that Seoul will not accept a nuclear armed North Korea, while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out during a Congressional hearing Wednesday that unless there is clear evidence of Pyongyang takings steps to get rid of its nuclear program, Washington will not come to the negotiating table or consider providing aid.

   In addition, the communist country may be indicating its resistance to new moves by the two allies who may no longer be willing to reward the North for bad behavior as was the case in the past.

   South Korean and U.S. policymakers said it is about time to put an end to the vicious cycle of Pyongyang instigating a crisis situation and then coming to the negotiation table to win concessions by making promises it will eventually break.

   The CPRK said such remarks about the North's "bad behavior" represent an insult against the country's dignity.

   "Such words are not appropriate for a party wanting to engage in talks," it said, hinting that Pyongyang may not join any talks centered entirely on the agenda of it giving up its nuclear weapons.

   Instead, it may want to include changes centered on fundamentally altering the structure of its relations with the United States, such as the signing of a peace treaty to replace the cease fire armistice reached at the end of the Korean War (1950-53).

   The committee, moreover, said that the country has no plans to put its satellite launching capabilities and its nuclear deterrence on the negotiating table to be bartered and debated. It emphasized that both programs represent national assets and the sovereign dignity of the country. It argued that as long as there is a nuclear threat in the world, Pyongyang will never give up its rights.

   Reflecting this, North Korean policymakers have repeatedly called for global non-proliferation and denuclearization talks that include all nuclear powers. Such calls have been ignored by the United States.

   The North has also claimed that rockets such as the Unha-3 launched last December, is designed to place satellites into space, but the rest of the world views it as a cover for conducting long-range missile tests with the goal of building inter-continental ballistic missiles that can hit the United States.

   "If statements coming from the North are viewed strictly as preconditions for future talks, there is not a whole lot of leeway for the start of dialogue, but if they are topics that can be touched on, then there is a chance some headway will be made," said Im Soo-ho, research fellow at the Samsung Economic Research Institute said.

   Other North Korean observers speculated that Pyongyang may be moving to downshift on the tensions it created in the past few months.

   There is a need to wait and see, but if the North does not take further actions to challenge the international community then it may be a sign, the country can engage in talks to resolve the current impasse, they said.

   The North seemed likely to launch it Musudan long-range missiles last week, which is capable of hitting Guam, yet has opted not to do so.