North Korea Would Like to Talk to the United States About Denuclearization

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In this March 11, 2013 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed March 12, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rides on a boat, heading for the Wolnae Islet Defense Detachment, North Korea, near the western sea border with South Korea. North Korea's young leader urged front-line troops to be on "maximum alert" for a potential war as a state-run newspaper said Pyongyang had carried out a threat to cancel the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War.
Photo: KCNA via KNS/AP/Corbis

Following months of tension marked by a nuclear test, a video about destroying the United States set to "We Are the World," war games, missile brandishing and launches, and basketball diplomacy, North Korea has proposed "senior-level talks" with American officials. On Sunday, the National Defense Commission called for "broad and in-depth discussions" about defusing "military tensions" with the United States and South Korea, as well as the possibility of mutual denuclearization. Pyongyang politely offered to let Washington select the time and place for the meeting, though the statement also said, "If the U.S. is truly interested in securing regional peace and safety and easing tensions, it should not mention of preconditions for the talks."

National Security spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden responded by saying, "Our desire is to have credible negotiations with the North Koreans," though those negotiations would be contingent on North Korea "living up to its obligations to the world, including compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolutions." She added, "We will judge North Korea by its actions, and not its words and look forward to seeing steps that show North Korea is ready to abide by its commitments and obligations."

Meanwhile, Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korean studies professor at Seoul's Dongguk University, was more blunt in his skepticism. According to what Kim told the New York Times, the offer does not represent "any fundamental change in the North Korean position." Instead, he said it looks like a dig at South Korea, with whom they canceled nuclear talks last week over a dispute about the ranks of the delegates attending the meeting: "With Sunday’s overture toward Washington, North Korea was telling the South, Professor Kim said, that if Seoul did not engage in discussions, Pyongyang would try to go around it and talk directly with Washington." Sneaky, but possibly not sneaky enough.