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N. Korea steps up peace offensive despite Seoul’s aloof stance

Publication Date : 04-02-2014

 

North Korea is seen ramping up its peace offensive after leader Kim Jong-un called for a thaw in cross-border relations in his New Year address and his regime proposed a fresh round of separated families.

State mouthpieces have been relaying articles stressing the need for inter-Korean reconciliation, while Hyon Hak-bong, Pyongyang’s ambassador to London, conducted two rare interviews with media there.

In an interview with The Financial Times on Sunday, the envoy urged Seoul and Washington to scrap their planned annual military drills slated to begin late this month, saying it would otherwise “bring the situation to the brink of war”.

“We are opening up the economy and welcome foreign companies and increased trade.”

He also blamed the US for escalating tension on the peninsula by pursuing “hostile policies and threatening (the North) with nuclear weapons” during a separate interview with Sky News last week.

Though Hyon mostly repeated the lines of Kim’s speech, his press appearance gained traction for its sheer rarity.

Pyongyang’s charm offensive is apparently aimed at boosting business cooperation with other countries and extracting food handouts and other economic aid chiefly from Seoul, which are vital for propping up its crumbling economy.

A barrage of sanctions targeting the communist state’s nuclear programs has choked off revenue streams and outside assistance, resulting in its lopsided economic reliance on China.

The overtures also came as part of the North’s efforts to reopen six-party talks on its denuclearization, last held in late 2008. It involves the US, China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas.

After his own news conference in New York last week, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN Sin Son-ho reiterated the regime’s willingness to return to the negotiating table, saying its timing hinged on the opponents ― apparently Seoul and Washington.

News reports emerged last week that Junichi Ihara, director general for Asian and Oceanian affairs at the Japanese Foreign Ministry, and other two officials met with three working-level North Korean officials in Hanoi on Jan. 26-27. Tokyo’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga denied the reports.

But Seoul remains skeptical, calling on Pyongyang to prove its sincerity by making progress in its denuclearisation commitments.

The South Korean government blasted its northern neighbour last week following a report by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to the US Senate Intelligence Committee that the North has reactivated a plutonium-producing reactor and expanded a uranium-enrichment facility, supporting assessments by Seoul officials and international think tanks.

Glyn Davies, special representative for North Korea policy at the US Department of State, also urged action from Pyongyang during his trip last week to Seoul.

“So far North Korea has been a no-show on the nuclear issue and we hope that they begin to change their attitude, change their actions, and give us all the hope and prospect of a better 2014 going forward,” he told reporters.

 

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