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Pyongyang rejects offer of talks by Tillerson

Dec 21,2017
North Korea snubbed U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s dialogue proposal in a commentary issued by the state-run newspaper Wednesday, saying with or without pre-conditions, it would never engage in talks unless Washington ditches its hostile policy against the regime and acknowledges Pyongyang as a legitimate nuclear force.

In an English version of the article published by Rodong Sinmun, the North said its “fixed stance” is to never put its nukes and ballistic missiles on the negotiation table, nor “flinch an inch from the already chosen road of bolstering up the nuclear force” until the United States “fundamentally” removes its hostile policy and nuclear threat against the regime.

North Korea has “no interest” in dialogue with the United States, it said, which is “sneered by the international community for failing to mind its internal affairs.”

What the United States ultimately seeks through the talk proposals, the article read, is the nuclear disarmament of the North.

Last Friday in New York, Tillerson suggested talks with the North while addressing a United Nations Security Council meeting, but was quick to add that the regime must “earn its way back” to the negotiation table first by showing a “sustained cessation” of any threatening behavior.

The remark was a noticeable retreat from just three days earlier, when he said the Trump administration was “ready to have the first meeting without precondition,” pointing out it was “not realistic” to say it would only talk with the North if it gave up its nuclear and missile program.

With no end in sight to the diplomatic impasse, local pundits are now wondering whether North Korea will finally give a nod to Seoul’s invitation to the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics, especially after President Moon Jae-in mentioned Tuesday he recently suggested to Washington to postpone their joint military exercises.

The annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises, usually held in March, overlap with the Paralympics, which last from March 9 to 18. North Korea sees the drills as a rehearsal for war and vehemently opposes them.

“North Korea has always asked South Korea and the U.S. to halt the drills,” said Kim Young-soo, a political science professor at Sogang University in Seoul, adding Pyongyang will likely press Seoul to go a step further with the overture by asking the allies to ditch the exercise next year.

Kim Yeon-chul, professor of reunification studies at Inje University in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang, said if the United States accepts South Korea’s offer to delay the drills, it will mean they could skip the practice in 2018 because the United States normally has a tight schedule holding other big-scale exercises with other countries.

“North Korea is focused more on its relationship with the U.S. rather than the Olympics,” said Koh Yu-hwan, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, “which is why it will observe the circumstances until right before the start of the Games, raising the stakes throughout the way.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, JEONG YONG-SOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]