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(3rd LD) N. Korea says it is open to talks with S. Korea

All Headlines 19:08 June 15, 2015

(ATTN: UPDATES with reaction from S. Korean gov't in paras 12-15, ADDS more info throughout)

SEOUL, June 15 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Monday it is open to holding talks with South Korea if certain conditions are met, including the suspension of the South's joint military drills with the United States.

"If the atmosphere for trust and reconciliation is created, there is no reason not to hold dialogue and talks between the two Koreas," read a statement by North Korea carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

The statement came on the 15th anniversary of a historic inter-Korean summit between then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The rare statement came as the North has not accepted the South's repeated proposals for dialogue, claiming that annual joint military drills between Seoul and Washington are raising tension on the divided peninsula.

The Seoul-Pyongyang ties have been strained since 2010, when the South imposed sanctions banning economic and cultural exchanges following the North's torpedoing of a South Korean warship and its shelling of a border island.

The North has repeatedly called on the South to lift the sanction and end the Seoul-Washington military drills as preconditions for the dialogue.

This year could become a critical year for inter-Korean ties as the year marks the 70th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule and the division of the Korean Peninsula.

The North said it is open to the talks, but it also attached a list of conditions that the South should meet, claiming that it is seeking to patch up the strained inter-Korean ties and promote reconciliation.

"South Korea should be aware that it stands at a critical juncture as it should decide over whether to join hands with the North for the better inter-Korean ties or to face a miserable fate by continuing to confront the North," the statement said.

North Korea called on South Korea to first suspend its military exercises with the U.S. and drop what it called invectives toward Pyongyang. It also urged Seoul to abolish legal and institutional systems that hamper inter-Korean exchanges.

Pyongyang demanded Seoul abide by the spirit of the landmark inter-Korean declarations, the outcome of two inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007, which call for peace and reconciliation on the peninsula.

In response, Seoul's unification ministry called on the North to come to the talks "without laying out improper preconditions."

"North Korea should immediately suspend provocative acts that are raising tension on the peninsula as the North insists that an atmosphere amicable for better inter-Korean relations should be created," the ministry said in a press release.

It also urged Pyongyang to accept Seoul's bid to promote inter-Korean civilian exchanges in a bid to restore national unity.

The North's proposal came one day after North Korea test-fired three short-range missiles into the East Sea.

The North's provocative acts have never ceased, raising tension on the divided peninsula. Last month, the North claimed it had successfully fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

Experts said that the ball is now in South Korea's court as the North at least showed its readiness for the talks, though some conditions are attached.

"Given the statement was rare, the North appeared to send a message that if the South shows some flexibility over the issues of the drills and Seoul's punitive actions, the North is ready to have talks," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

South Korea needs to be active in having talks with North Korea for better inter-Korean ties, said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies under Seoul National University.

"Seoul will not lift the punitive sanctions against Pyongyang, but it can show sincerity for the talks by curbing Seoul activists' launch of anti-Pyongyang leaflets or approving inter-Korean exchanges," he added.

But Kim Young-soo, a professor at Sogang University, cast a pessimistic view.

"Seoul will not be able to accept Pyongyang's offer as preconditions set by the North cannot be met. Then, the North would blame the South for a possible rupture of inter-Korean talks," the professor added.


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