North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, stands with employees of the Taegwan… (KCNA / AFP / Getty Images )
SEOUL — The North Korean regime Sunday suggested a high-level meeting with the United States "to ease the tension on the Korean peninsula," less than a week after its scheduled working-level talks with Seoul were called off.
In the National Defense Commission's "important statement" carried on its state-run Korea Central Television, Pyongyang said that if the U.S. is "sincerely interested in keeping the peace and security in the region, including the mainland United States," the two countries should hold high-level talks.
Proposing the two countries meet at a venue and date of Washington's choice, Pyongyang said they could discuss issues such as "easing the military tension" and denuclearization. The communist state also emphasized that there shouldn't be any precondition to the talks, and that how the situation unfolds depends solely on the U.S.
"We assert, internally and externally, that denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is our people's unchanging will," the statement said, adding that it is the task for the party and its people as it is "the legacy of the late leader and the general."
"The special statement seems to reflect Kim Jong Un's will to deal with the U.S.," said professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. "Kim Jong Un's special envoy to China, Choi Ryong-hae, has expressed that Pyongyang will resolve the current tension through talks and negotiations. The suggestion this time seems to be on the same line as that."
North Korea has been globally criticized and seen sanctions expand in the wake of its long-range rocket launch in December, which they claimed to be for scientific purposes only. The hard-line communist state also carried out a nuclear test in early February, saying that it was in response to Washington's "hostile policy."
But earlier this month North Korea changed its war-like attitude and called for rare working-level talks with Seoul ahead of President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping's meeting in California. However, what would have been the first high-level talks in more than two years between the two Koreas never took place because the North shelved the meeting, expressing dissatisfaction over the South's choice of its delegates early last week.
Obama and Xi agreed to push for the denuclearization of North Korea, while Seoul announced that President Park Geun-hye will discuss denuclearization with Xi at their meeting this month.
The last high-level talks between the U.S. and North Korea were in February 2012. First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Kye-gwan of North Korea met with U.S. State Department special representative Glyn Davis in Beijing, and reached an agreement calling for Pyongyang to halt its nuclear tests in return for U.S. aid.
In the statement, however, Pyongyang officials confirmed that they will "keep their nuclear-state status, whether others acknowledge it or not," until the "external nuclear threats completely come to an end."
"Now the ball is on the U.S. side," said professor Yang. "If Pyongyang and Washington had some discussion beforehand through a New York channel, there are higher chances of the talk being actualized. But if this is just North Korea insisting the two come together, there is less chance of the U.S. agreeing."