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N. Korea Leader Open to 'Dialogue' With South

  • VOA News

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, pays his respects to his grandfather and North Korea founder, Kim Il Sung, and his father, Kim Jong Il, at Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, Jan. 1, 2015.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, pays his respects to his grandfather and North Korea founder, Kim Il Sung, and his father, Kim Jong Il, at Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, Jan. 1, 2015.

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," Kim said.

It is not clear at what level the talks proposed by Kim would take place.

The proposal comes after South Korea this week offered to hold high-level meetings with North Korea in January.

South Korea open to talks

Seoul's Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae on Thursday welcomed Kim's comments, saying if the North Korean leader is "sincere," then he should accept the South's offer of talks.

"Our government is looking forward to holding talks between South and North Korean authorities in the near future regardless in what format," Ryoo said.

The last high-profile inter-Korean meeting occurred in February 2014. The two Koreas agreed in October to restart the 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 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 said is 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.

Could be referred to ICC

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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