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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 259 (April 25, 2013)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

N. Korea Offers Terms of Dialogue with South Korea, U.S., amid Threats of War

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- After weeks of ferocious military threats, North Korea is showing signs of abating its hard stance against the United States and South Korea while talking about the terms of dialogue. Yet the North demands that the two allied countries stop provocations if they want talks, calling for disarmament talks with the U.S., not denuclearization discussions.

   On April 18, North Korea warned that South Korea and the United States should immediately halt all hostile actions and further provocations if they want to engage in dialogue and diffuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

   The North's powerful National Defense Commission and the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) said sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council against the DPRK (North Korea) must be rescinded and on-going nuclear war exercises should be stopped.

   "Fabrications of truth, like blaming the North for the sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010 and recent Internet hacking of financial institutions and media in South Korea, have to be discontinued," the commission's policy department said in a statement.

   Dialogue and war cannot coexist, it said, and Seoul and Washington need to proclaim to the rest of the world that the two countries will never engage in making threats or carry out nuclear war exercises that target the North.

   "It is time to withdraw all nuclear war making capabilities from the region and officially proclaim such devices will not be reintroduced down the line," said the defense commission.

   The policy department at the defense commission said all military exercises, including dress rehearsals for a nuclear attack, must stop immediately for all sides involved to come to the negotiating table.

   The CPRK, in charge of conducting dialogue with the South, echoed these views, saying the enforcement of sanctions, taking part in measures to compromise the regime and challenging the country's space and nuclear development efforts, all constituted hostile moves and will be tolerated.

   Introducing sophisticated military hardware into the region will be viewed as provocations, the CPRK said, adding that Seoul in recent days made remarks about the North making right choices that it claimed were impudent.

   "If they had a true will to have dialogue, they should have halted all acts of hurting the dignity of the DPRK, and stopped the north-targeted war exercises and smear campaign and given assurance to the nation that they would not resort to such hostile acts in the days ahead," the CPRK's announcement said.

   The two announcements come as the North in recent weeks have upped the ante by claiming it will no longer respect the Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War (1950-53) and threatened to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes against South Korea and the United States.

   However, it has withheld the launch of a long-range missile, raising speculation by some that it is seeking to prevent the escalation of tensions from getting out of control.

   Evidently, North Korea is 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 heights since Pyongyang detonated its third nuclear device in February.

   The speculation comes as the socialist country released two statements demanding an immediate halt to all hostile acts as the first step to meaningful dialogue. Pyongyang on April 17 called for "decisive action" to avenge insults on its leadership committed by anti-communist groups in Seoul.

   Experts said that the North's call for talks, even if preconditioned, may be a sign that Pyongyang is seeking a compromise once the South Korea-U.S. joint Foal Eagle exercises come to an end at the end of the month.

   Yang Moo-jin, political science professor at the University of North Korean Studies, speculated that once the military drills are concluded Pyongyang may opt for talks.

   "The statements may be a call for Seoul not to provoke them any further until dialogue can begin," he said.

   Chang Yong-seok, senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University said once the military exercises are concluded, a key obstacle for talks will be removed, and tensions may be lowered if the North gives up its hard-line tactics and considers using talks as a secondary strategy.

   "If such developments take place, tension levels may come down and the overall situation could change," the researcher said.

   Pyongyang claimed the Foal Eagle exercises are 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.

   Yet the comments by the North Korean 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.

   In response, Seoul's Ministry of Unification dismissed the latest rhetoric as nothing out of the ordinary and called it irresponsible. The ministry in charge of conducting talks with the North pointed out that Pyongyang had already rejected calls for dialogue by both South Korea and the United States earlier last week.

   "The North has (once again) overlooked or ignored the meaning and intent of talks proposed by Seoul and Washington," an official said.

   "It is time that the North stop making preposterous allegations and meet its denuclearization obligations," he said. The official added it is highly regrettable that the North is blaming the South for inciting tensions.

   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 on April 18 that unless there is clear evidence of Pyongyang taking 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 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 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 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. 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 test of long-range missiles 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 decrease 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 that the country can engage in talks to resolve the current impasse, they said.

   Still, North Korea's main newspaper said Pyongyang may hold arms reduction talks with the United States, but there will never be dialogue with Washington on ending the communist nation's nuclear programs.

   On April 20, Rodong Sinmnun newspaper accused the U.S. of suggesting its willingness for dialogue with Pyongyang is an attempt to unilaterally disarm the country. The North won't give up its nuclear program until the entire world is denuclearized, it said.

   "There may be talks between us and the United States for the sake of arms reduction, but there will never be talks for denuclearization," the paper of the ruling Workers' Party said. "Our position is clear. Never dream of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula before denuclearization of the world is realized."

   Demanding the North take denuclearization steps first as a condition for dialogue shows Washington's ulterior intention to rid Pyongyang of nuclear weapons and to militarily overpower the country, the paper claimed.

   Indicating future negotiations with the allies should proceed on the premise that the North is a nuclear power, Rodong Sinmun said last week, adding that Pyongyang would join talks only over arms reduction.

   Apparently to forge the atmosphere for dialogue over the provocative state, Beijing has ratcheted up diplomatic efforts to bring its communist ally back to the negotiating table.

   On April 22, China's top nuclear envoy Wu Dawei, and Glyn Davis, Washington's special representative for North Korean policy, met to discuss the North Korea issue. Reports said Dawei stressed the need for the six-party denuclearization talks to resume. Seoul's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se also flew to Beijing on April 24 for talks over North Korea.

   The Chinese diplomat could help deliver Washington's position to the North and seek to bring the North and other parties to a fresh round of denuclearization talks. But uncertainty remains over the prospect of talks as the North remains adamant that it will not give up nuclear weapons.