North Korea has proposed high-level talks with the US to ease tensions and discuss nuclear disarmament across the Korean peninsula, a rare overture from Pyongyang that comes just days after it abruptly called off discussions with its neighbours to the south.
North Korea’s powerful National Defence Commission, headed by President Kim Jong-un, called on the US to set the time and the place for a round of unconditional talks to “secure peace and stability in the region and ease tension on the Korean peninsula”.
In a statement carried by the North’s state-run news service over the weekend, the commission said the country was willing to talk about a range of issues – including nuclear disarmament. However, Pyongyang made clear that it would not give up its weapons unilaterally; instead, it said de-nuclearisation of the region should also involve South Korea, and “totally ending US nuclear threats” against the North.
Last week the two Koreas were due to revive a dialogue that stalled six years ago. But the talks, which would have focused on proposals for economic co-operation, fell through because of bickering over who would lead the national delegations.
While apparently signalling a shift from the provocative stance adopted by Pyongyang last year, the offer of talks has prompted scepticism among analysts. On Friday, Glyn Davies, the US special representative on North Korea policy, reiterated that the US will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state.
Analysts have cited the recent California summit between President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jingping, as a possible motivating factor behind the talks. China is Pyongyang’s principal benefactor, and the statement could be a way of appeasing Beijing. Mr Obama’s National Security Adviser, Thomas Donilon, said after the California talks that the US and China agreed about the need for Pyongyang to shed its nuclear weapons.