N. Korea makes fresh call for talks with S. Korea

28th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

North Korea called again Friday for dialogue with South Korea to lessen what it described as the danger of war, as a Russian envoy indicated progress in efforts to restart separate nuclear negotiations.

The North proposed talks between legislators from North and South "to settle the grave situation prevailing" between the two nations.

The two sides have already agreed in principle to hold military talks, in what would be their first contact since the North shelled a South Korean border island on November 23 -- killing four people including two civilians.

Seoul also accuses its neighbour of torpedoing a warship last March with the loss of 46 lives, a charge the North denies.

The long-stalled six-party nuclear forum groups the United States, Japan, the two Koreas, China and Russia.

Pyongyang quit the talks in April 2009, a month before its second nuclear test, but has expressed conditional willingness to return.

But Seoul, Washington and Tokyo say the North must first mend ties with the South and show it is serious about denuclearisation.

Pyongyang's disclosure last November of a uranium enrichment plant -- which could be reconfigured to fuel nuclear weapons -- has lent fresh urgency to the disarmament efforts.

Russia's nuclear negotiator Alexei Borodavkin indicated there had been some movement, in comments to his counterpart Wi Sung-Lac before their private talks in Seoul.

"I think this period of time is really something, something is about to happen," Borodavkin said without explanation. "So we have to meet, consult and exchange views and try to coordinate our positions."

US President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao called at their summit last week for "necessary steps" to restart the dialogue soon.

Prospects for an improvement in North-South ties remained unclear.

Seoul has proposed holding working-level military talks on February 11 to set the time and agenda for high-level military dialogue.

But it was unclear whether Pyongyang would accept Seoul's demands for "responsible measures" over last year's attacks and a pledge not to repeat them.

Friday's call from the North's Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, one of the bodies overseeing cross-border affairs, proposed unconditional talks.

"We appeal to the South Korean authorities to discard useless misgivings and prejudice and honestly come out for all the proposed North-South dialogues without delay and any condition," it said in a statement on the official news agency.

It said the danger of war "in which fire was returned for fire last year was defused temporarily thanks to the (North's) positive efforts but this danger still persists".

The North says its shelling of the island near the disputed Yellow Sea border was in response to a South Korean artillery exercise, which dropped shells into waters claimed by Pyongyang.

The South says its own exercise was routine and the North's response was a premeditated provocation.

Its unification ministry responded coolly to the latest talks proposal, saying the offer appeared to lack sincerity.

After months of fiery rhetoric, Pyongyang has changed tack this year and made frequent appeals for dialogue. Seoul has expressed scepticism about most of the overtures, saying they are public relations exercises.

© 2011 AFP

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