Seoul: North Korea Monday demanded an end to sanctions before it returns to nuclear disarmament negotiations, but gave the go-ahead for economic talks with South Korea despite earlier threats to attack its neighbour.
Pyongyang’s foreign ministry, reiterating its earlier stance, said it would not return to the six-nation disarmament talks it abandoned last April until the United Nations
sanctions are lifted.
“The dignity of the DPRK (North Korea) will never allow this to happen,” the ministry said in a statement.
The North repeated calls for early negotiations on a treaty to formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War, in order to build confidence in the nuclear talks.
The communist state said it “is not opposed to the six-party talks and has no ground whatsoever to delay them”.
But it added: “There will be a starting point of confidence-building only if the parties concerned sit at a negotiating table for concluding a peace treaty.”
The United States and South Korea have rejected early discussions on a peace treaty, or the lifting of sanctions.
They say the North must first return to the six-party talks — which group the two Koreas, the US, Russia, China and Japan — and show it is serious about scrapping its atomic programmes.
Seoul’s foreign ministry said that under the UN resolution, sanctions could only be reconsidered when there was progress in denuclearisation.
Pyongyang, however, authorised a visit by a Seoul delegation to discuss ways to revitalise their joint industrial estate at Kaesong just north of the border.
The two-day talks will begin Tuesday, Seoul’s unification ministry said.
The two sides had agreed last week on the meeting at Kaesong.
But on Friday, in an angry statement, the North’s highest body threatened to cut all dialogue and cooperation unless the South apologises for an alleged contingency plan to handle regime collapse in the North.
The National Defence Commission (NDC), chaired by leader Kim Jong-Il, had also warned of a possible “retaliatory” war against the South over the plan.
On Sunday Pyongyang’s state media publicised a military drill attended by Kim, in which the leader watched his troops “shattering the ‘enemy camp’ to pieces”.
Friday’s statement, which came hours after the North said it would accept food aid from the South, was prompted by unconfirmed media reports that Seoul had drawn up a plan to administer the North in case of regime collapse, a coup or a popular uprising.
The NDC vowed to stage “a sacred nationwide retaliatory battle to blow up the stronghold of the South Korean authorities” that drew up the plan.
It described the alleged document as a plan to overthrow its socialist system.
“North Korea is now taking a two-track approach,” said Dongguk University professor Kim Yong-Hyun.
“The message today indicates North Korea is willing to open talks with South Korea on economic and humanitarian issues,” he told AFP.
“It will take a stern attitude about anything which is considered to be undermining the regime’s authority and leadership.”
The cash-strapped regime has faced tighter sanctions since its nuclear and missile tests last year. Last week it called for the South to resume lucrative tourism projects in the North.
The Kaesong estate, where 40,000 North Koreans work at 110 South Korean factories, is also a valuable source of hard currency.
“There will be no progress on political matters for a while but North Korea will try to gain as much as possible from economic talks with South Korea,” Kim said.
But he said the North is expected to resume the six-party talks only when the US pledges economic and political benefits or meets part of its demands.
The Korean conflict — in which a US-led United Nations force supported the South while China backed the North — ended only in an armistice, leaving the parties still technically at war.