North Korea's Kim open to 'highest-level' talks with South

North Korea's Kim open to 'highest-level' talks with South
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a New Year's address in this January 1, 2015.

SEOUL - North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un proposed the "highest-level" talks with South Korea Thursday, opening the way to a historic summit as his communist country battles to fend off international prosecution over its dismal human rights record.

The sudden move, made during his traditional New Year message, would clear the path for the first top-level inter-Korean meeting since a 2007 meeting in Pyongyang.

"Depending on the mood and circumstances to be created, we have no reason not to hold the highest-level talks," Kim said, calling for a turnaround in strained relations between the two Koreas, which are technically at war.

South Korean media said he was referring to a summit with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye.

Kim also urged Washington to take a "bold shift" in its policy towards Pyongyang and denounced the US for leading an international campaign over the North's human rights record.

"The US and its followers are holding on to a nasty 'human rights' racket as their schemes to destroy our self-defensive nuclear deterrent and stifle our republic by force become unrealisable," Kim said.

He described nuclear weapons, meanwhile, as the guardian of his country and vowed to sternly retaliate against "any provocations" threatening its dignity and sovereignty.

Pyongyang faces growing pressure to improve its dismal human rights record, with the UN stepping up a campaign to refer the North's leaders to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

The isolated nation, meanwhile, suffered a mysterious Internet outage last month after Washington vowed retaliation over a crippling cyber attack blamed on North Korea against Sony, the studio behind a controversial film about a fictional plot to assassinate Kim.

There was no immediate reaction from South Korea, but a US State Department official said: "We support improved inter-Korean relations."

Kim said in his message that Pyongyang "will make every effort to advance dialogue and negotiations", adding that the "tragic" division of the Korean peninsula should not be tolerated.

The leader's tone was generally conciliatory, but he made it clear that South Korea should end its joint military exercises with the United States.

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