News / Asia

North Korean Offer for Unconditional Talks Greeted Cautiously

A day after North Korea offered to engage in wide-ranging dialogue without any conditions, officials here were dismissive of the gesture.

South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun on Thursday said Pyongyang’s sincerity needs to be expressed by more than words.

The spokesman says North Korea revealed its uranium enrichment facility, which it had been denying existed. Such measures go against the expectations of the global community, so sincerity, Kim says, must be reflected in specific actions, not just through words.

Although South Korean officials showed little enthusiasm for new talks, Kim says government agencies are discussing the latest North Korean statement.

The U.S. State Department says there has to be an "appropriate context" to resume dialogue. Echoing Seoul’s stance, a spokesman said it would include Pyongyang showing progress on its previous commitments to abandon nuclear weapons.

In the latest in a series of overtures advocating dialogue, Pyongyang proposes negotiations with "political parties and organizations of South Korea, including its authorities"” The statement, carried by the North’s official news agency, calls for discussing all inter-Korean issues in unconditional talks.

The conciliatory gestures come after a period of belligerence by Pyongyang. Its military forces in late November shelled a South Korean island, killing four people.

In March of last year, a South Korean navy ship exploded and sank, killing 46 sailors. An international investigation concluded the Cheonan was hit by a North Korean torpedo, but Pyongyang denies any involvement.

As a result of the two incidents, tensions on the Korean peninsula have been high, raising concerns of an all-out war.

A U.S. special envoy is visiting several Asian capitals this week to discuss the approach toward North Korea. Stephen Bosworth held talks Thursday in Beijing, a day after discussions here with South Korean officials. Later in the day, Bosworth left for a visit to Tokyo.

In Seoul on Wednesday he expressed hope negotiations would be able to resume soon but said the United States would never pressure South Korea into returning to the table.

China has called for resuming talks with both Koreas, Russia, Japan and the U.S. The six-nation discussions began in 2003. Two years later North Korea agreed to abandon its quest to become a nuclear power. But the talks have been stalled since 2008, and in 2009 Pyongyang quit the talks and tested a nuclear weapon.

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