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N. Korea Offers Talks to S. Korea      09/24 06:25

   

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- The influential sister of North Korean leader Kim 
Jong Un said Friday her country is willing to resume talks with South Korea if 
conditions are met, indicating it wants Seoul to persuade Washington to relax 
crippling economic sanctions.

   Kim Yo Jong's statement came days after North Korea performed its first 
missile tests in six months, which some experts said were intended to show it 
will keep boosting its weapons arsenal if the U.S.-led sanctions continue while 
nuclear diplomacy remains stalled.

   She offered the talks while mentioning South Korean President Moon Jae-in's 
call, issued in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly, for a political 
declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War as a way to bring peace to the 
peninsula.

   "Smiling a forced smile, reading the declaration of the termination of the 
war, and having photos taken could be essential for somebody, but I think that 
they would hold no water and would change nothing, given the existing 
inequality, serious contradiction therefrom and hostilities," Kim Yo Jong said 
in the statement carried by state media.

   She said North Korea is willing to hold "constructive" talks with South 
Korea to discuss how to improve and repair strained ties if the South stops 
provoking the North with hostile policies, far-fetched assertions and 
double-dealing standards.

   South Korea's Unification Ministry said it's carefully reviewing Kim Yo 
Jong's statement. It said South Korea will continue its efforts to restore ties 
with North Korea.

   Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University in South Korea, said North 
Korea is putting indirect pressure on Seoul to work to arrange talks on easing 
the sanctions as it pushes for the declaration of the war's end.

   "It's like North Korea saying it would welcome talks on the end-of-the war 
declaration if lifting the sanctions can also be discussed," Nam said.

   The U.S.-led sanctions have been toughened following North Korea's 
provocative run of nuclear and missile tests in 2016-17, and Kim Jong Un has 
said the sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters were causing 
the "worst-ever" crisis in North Korea.

   Earlier this year, he warned he would enlarge the country's nuclear arsenal 
if the United States refuses to abandon its "hostile policy" toward North 
Korea, an apparent reference to the sanctions.

   North Korea and the United States are still technically at war because the 
Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. North Korea has 
consistently wanted to sign a peace treaty with the United States to formally 
end the war as a step toward subsequent improved relations. Some experts say 
the peace treaty could allow North Korea to demand that the United States 
withdraw its 28,500 troops in South Korea and ease the sanctions.

   Both Koreas had called for an end-of-war declaration and a peace treaty 
during a period of diplomacy with the United States that began in 2018. There 
was speculation that former President Donald Trump might announce the war's end 
in early 2019 to convince Kim Jong Un to commit to denuclearization.

   No such announcement was made as the talks reached a stalemate after Trump 
rejected Kim Jong Un's calls for the lifting of toughened sanctions in exchange 
for limited denuclearization steps. Some experts say North Korea won't have a 
reason to denuclearize if those sanctions are withdrawn.

   Kim Yo Jong's offer for talks was a stark contrast to a blunt statement 
issued by a senior North Korean diplomat earlier Friday that the end-of-war 
declaration could be a "smokescreen" covering up hostile U.S. policies.

   The earlier statement appeared to target the U.S., while the later one by 
Kim Yo Jong, who is in charge of North Korea's relations with Seoul, focuses 
more on South Korea. Both statements suggest Seoul and Washington should act 
first and drop sanctions if they want to see a resumption of nuclear diplomacy.

   Ties between the Koreas remain largely deadlocked amid a stalemate in the 
broader North Korea-U.S. diplomacy. North Korea earlier called on South Korea 
not to interfere in its dealings with the United States after Seoul failed to 
break away from Washington and revive joint economic projects held up by the 
sanctions.

   North Korea also often accuses South Korea of hypocrisy and double standards 
by buying high-tech weapons and staging military drills with the United States 
while calling for a dialogue with the North.

   Last week, North Korea conducted its first cruise and ballistic missile 
tests since March, demonstrating its ability to launch attacks on South Korea 
and Japan, two key U.S. allies where a total of 80,000 American soldiers are 
stationed. But North Korea is still maintaining a moratorium on nuclear tests 
and launches of long-range missiles that directly target the American homeland, 
a sign that it wants to keep chances for future diplomacy with Washington alive.

   "North Korea would think it doesn't cross a (red line) set by the U.S. ... 
so it says it can come to talks if conditions are rife" for sanctions relief, 
said Seo Yu-Seok at the Seoul-based Institute of North Korean Studies.

   Nam said North Korea is likely to conduct more powerful weapons tests if the 
U.S. and South Korea don't accept its demand for sanctions relief.

 
 
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