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North Korea's Kim Says Open to High-Level Talks With South

  • VOA News

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervises at a rocket-launching drill in this undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang, Dec. 30, 2014.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervises at a rocket-launching drill in this undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang, Dec. 30, 2014.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he is open to expanding "dialogue and cooperation" with the country's rival, South Korea.

During a traditional New Year's Day speech, Kim said he would consider resuming "stalled high-level meetings" with Seoul.

"If the atmosphere and environment is there, there is no reason not to hold a high-level summit [with South Korea]. We will make every effort to advance dialogue and cooperation," said Kim.

Kim's proposal comes after South Korea's Unification Ministry this week offered to hold high-level talks with North Korea in January.

Seoul's Unification Ministry on Thursday weclomed Kim's comments, saying if he is "sincere" then he would accept the South's offer of talks.

It is not clear whether Kim's comments were a response to the earlier offer, or what level of officials would take place in the proposed talks.

The last high-profile inter-Korean meeting occurred in February. The two Koreas agreed in October to restart dialogue, but did not follow through.

The talks traditionally have covered areas of cooperation, such as resuming reunions between families separated by the 1950s Korean War.

The two countries remain in a technical state of war, since the hostilities were ended by a truce and not a peace treaty.

Over 28,000 U.S. troops remain in the South. The North views this as a threat and has developed a nuclear and weapons program in response.

Three rounds of North Korean nuclear tests, accompanied by threats of nuclear war, have raised tensions on the peninsula in recent years.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has said she is open to improving ties, but only if Pyongyang takes steps to dismantle its nuclear program.

North Korea is also under increased pressure over what the United Nations calls the North's dismal human rights situation.

Earlier this month, the Security Council placed North Korean rights on its agenda, meaning the issue will be regularly discussed.

The council could also soon vote on whether to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.

A U.N. Commission of Inquiry report earlier this year detailed wide-ranging abuses, including prison camps, systematic torture, starvation and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities.

Critics say North Korean leaders are pursuing a nuclear weapons program at the expense of the country's impoverished and disenfranchised citizens.

In his New Year's Day speech, Kim called for improved living standards in the North and more rapid economic growth. But he also said North Koreans should spare no efforts in strengthening the country's military power.

The speech, which appeared to be recorded and was broadcast on state television, was Kim's third New Year's Day address since his father, Kim Jong Il, died in late 2011.

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