As experts expected, North Korea finally made known its demands to bring an end to escalating tension on the Korean peninsula, suggesting that the removal of U. N. sanctions and the suspension of joint military exercises by the U.S. and South Korea would be the preconditions for starting dialogue.
But they are demands that clearly will not be acceded to, meaning North Korea was signaling that it would not stand down anytime soon from a weekslong military deadlock.
Still, experts were hopeful that North Korea at least has responded to U.S. and South Korean offers for dialogue. It might be the first step toward more substantive talks and end the brinksmanship that observers worried would bring the peninsula close to a point of conflict.
North Korea also said it wouldn’t make any moves toward abandoning its nuclear ambitions until the removal of nuclear weapons that it claims Washington has deployed in the region.
“Dialogue and war cannot coexist,” the North’s National Defense Commission said in the statement carried by the official KCNA news agency. “If the United States and the puppet South have the slightest desire to avoid the sledge-hammer blow of our army and the people … and truly wish dialogue and negotiations, they must make the resolute decision.”
The U.S. has said in the past that it would begin talks with North Korea only if it abandoned its nuclear program — a declaration repeated yesterday by Secretary of State John Kerry in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington.
“We’re not going to reward them, and come to the table and get into some food deal, without some pretty ironclad concept on how we’re going forward on the denuclearization,” Kerry said.
When he visited the region last weekend, Kerry calmed fears when he said the U.S. preferred talks over conflict. In recent weeks, the U.S. has flexed its muscle with the training missions of nuclear-capable B-52 and B-2 bombers, as well as F-22 Stealth fighter jets, over South Korea.
Kerry reaffirmed Washington’s condition that North Korea must first “make it clear they will move to denuclearizing as part of the talks.”
But North Korea has described those offers as “cunning” deceits.
The Obama administration last year was willing to provide 240,000 tons of food to the desperately poor people of North Korea, but withdrew the offer after last April when the nation launched a long-range rocket that exploded shortly after liftoff.
While Pyongyang says it would never negotiate away its nuclear weapons, both Seoul and Washington are keen to break what the South Koreans call a “vicious cycle’’ of the allies answering Pyongyang’s hostile behavior with compromise.
The South Koreans, “along with their American master, are still talking such nonsense as ‘denuclearization’ in the North in a bid to make a bargain over its nukes,” said a spokesman for the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea on Thursday. “They would be well advised to drop such daydream.”
He said North Korea was “technically at a nuclear war with the U.S.”—a reference to North Korea’s statement last month that the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War was “totally nullified.”