N Korea reiterates its stand on nuclear tests at informal talks in Singapore

N Korea reiterates its stand on nuclear tests at informal talks in Singapore
Ri Yong-ho (C) , North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator leaves with hotel security after delivering a statement during a briefing to media after two days of unofficial talks with former top US diplomats and security experts in Singapore on January 19, 2015. North Korea on January 19 insisted on its proposal for the United States to halt military exercises with South Korea in exchange for Pyongyang to suspend nuclear tests.

NORTH Korea has again offered to suspend its nuclear tests if the United States agrees to shelve annual military drills with South Korea after informal talks between the two sides in Singapore.

North Korean officials and a group of former US nuclear envoys ended two days of non-government-level meetings yesterday, with the latter calling for denuclearisation talks to resume.

When Pyongyang made the offer earlier this month, Washington rejected it as a veiled threat.

Yesterday, former US special envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth told reporters: "We emphasise the importance of dealing with the issue of denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and the importance of making progress on the other elements of the joint statement of the six-party talks of September 2005."

The six-party talks, which involve the two Koreas, the US, Japan, Russia and China, have stalled since 2008.

Mr Bosworth stressed that he and his US colleagues joined the talks not as representatives of the US government but as private citizens who hope to do their part to "improve the situation in the Korean peninsula".

There was no mention of who initiated the so-called Track 2 meeting, which means there is no government-to-government contact. But Pyongyang has been attending such meetings with former US officials in recent years and came to Singapore obviously with a mission in mind.

North Korean vice-foreign minister Ri Yong Ho, who spoke to the media separately after Mr Bosworth, said through an interpreter that the "root cause" of tension on the Korean peninsula is the annual joint military exercises.

Ending these drills is the "first step" to easing tension, he added.

"The core of our proposal is that if the United States puts a temporary halt to this large-scale joint military exercise, we are ready to respond by calling a moratorium on nuclear tests."

Associate research fellow Sarah Teo, of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the joint drills have always been a "sore point" for Pyongyang and the offer to suspend nuclear tests seems to be its "standard bargaining chip". The North has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006.

Asked under what conditions North Korea will return to the six-party talks, Mr Ri said: "From the first time we proposed a meeting without any pre-conditions." He did not elaborate further.

Ms Teo does not think the talks will restart in the short term.

"It would require a fundamental change in strategic thinking for both sides in order to move forward," she said.

changmc@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 20, 2015.
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