U.S. hostile but talks still possible: North Korea

AFP-JIJI, AP

A top North Korean envoy said Friday that U.S. hostility could lead to war at any time, but reaffirmed a government offer of talks with Washington that could include the nuclear weapons issue.

At a rare but typically combative news conference, the isolated state’s U.N. ambassador, Sin Son Ho, accused the United States of driving up tensions and appealed for an end to U.N. and U.S. sanctions against Pyongyang.

“The most pressing issue in Northeast Asia today is the hostile relations between the DPRK and the U.S. which can lead to another war at any moment,” Sin said.

North Korea is formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Sin reiterated Pyongyang’s surprise offer last Saturday to hold wide-ranging senior-level talks with the United States “to defuse tension on the Korean Peninsula and ensure peace and security in the region.”

With his country facing mounting U.N. and international sanctions over its recent nuclear bomb and missile tests, Sin said the North will never give up its atomic weapons.

North Korea “has a legitimate sovereign right to (its) self-defense deterrent as long as the United States continues its hostile policy toward DPRK and threatens it with nuclear weapons.”

The country will “never give up (its) self-defense war deterrent.”

Sin said U.S.-South Korean war games risk leading the Korean Peninsula into “another vicious cycle of tensions and conflict.”

But the warnings were also mixed with the North’s new message that it wants talks with the United States. The North’s all-powerful National Defense Commission said last Sunday that it is ready to negotiate with the U.S. administration.

“This is our real intention to have talks,” Sin said. “In the talks we can have wide-ranging discussions with the United States including those of easing tension on the Korean Peninsula.

“Also we can discuss the matter of the world without nuclear weapons the United States has already proposed.”

The envoy said that U.N. and U.S. sanctions against North Korea, reinforced since its nuclear test in February, were “blackmail.”

“I urge the United States to stop economic sanctions against us,” Sin said, adding that U.N. member states should not “blindly” follow U.N. sanctions.

A U.S. State Department spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, had no immediate comment on the talks offer but said “our sanctions will continue.”

North Korea has said it wants talks with the United States to replace the armistice that halted but did not formally end the 1950-53 Korean War.

Next month North and South Korea will mark the end of the war, which left the peninsula divided and wracked by regular clashes.

Sin blamed the tensions on the United States and called for the abolition of the U.S.-led U.N. Command in South Korea, which the ambassador said was “war-oriented” and the “root of evil.”

The envoy said the United States wants to turn the U.N. Command into “an Asian version of NATO” (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) to combat North Korea.

The United States has some 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea and their annual joint military exercises infuriate the North Korean government. The North has shunned the six-nation talks on its nuclear arsenal since late 2008.

After testing an atomic weapon again in February, the North shut down ties with South Korea but has since faced growing pressure from China, which voted for the additional U.N. sanctions against its neighbor and urged it to ease tensions.

The United States has repeatedly said it will not accept a nuclear North Korea. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed at a summit earlier this month that the North must give up its arsenal.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks in Beijing on Friday on ways to restart nuclear talks, China’s Foreign Ministry said.

Obama said last week that Beijing is taking a tougher line against its neighbor’s nuclear program.

“We’ve seen the Chinese take more seriously the problem of constant provocation and statements from the North Koreans — rejecting the nuclearization,” Obama said on U.S. television.