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N. Korea Nuclear Affirmation Fuels Doubt Over Call for Talks

A North Korean soldier looks at South Korea across the Korean Demilitarized Zone in Panmunjom. Photographer: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
A North Korean soldier looks at South Korea across the Korean Demilitarized Zone in Panmunjom. Photographer: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

May 27 (Bloomberg) -- North Korea affirmed its commitment to nuclear weapons in a statement that attacked South Korea’s leader, fueling skepticism over the regime’s claim it wants to return to dialogue over its atomic program.

The north is demonstrating its might as a “military power and nuclear weapons state envied by world people and feared by enemies,” the official Korea Central News Agency said May 25. The rest of the statement was directed at South Korean President Park Geun Hye, saying she had behaved “coquettishly” and “kicked up confrontation hysteria.”

The statement came after the North’s envoy, Choe Ryong Hae, told Chinese President Xi Jinping on May 24 his country wants to find ways to resolve its conflicts via talks. The nuclear affirmation signals the North won’t abandon weapons development, a condition the U.S. has set for the resumption of six-party talks that collapsed in 2008.

“In order for the six-nation talks to restart, North Korea will need to internally shift and rejig its policy stance,” Yoo Ho Yeol, a North Korean professor at Korea University in Seoul, said by phone yesterday. “The North has de facto rejected the condition by issuing a statement the day after Choe met Xi.”

Tensions with the North flared after it defied United Nations sanctions with a rocket launch in December and a nuclear test in February. It later threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes against the U.S. and South Korea.

Kospi Gains

Korea’s benchmark Kospi index rose 0.3 percent to close at 1,979.97 today. The won gained 0.4 percent to 1,122.41 per dollar.

As the North’s chief political and economic patron, China has come under pressure to rein in Kim Jong Un’s regime. In a statement about Choe’s meeting with another top Chinese official in Beijing on May 23, the official Xinhua News Agency said the North “is willing to accept advice from the Chinese side and carry out dialogue.”

The May 25 KCNA statement made no mention of Choe’s visit to China or his remarks. Instead it criticized Park, saying she didn’t understand the North’s strategy of protecting itself against U.S. blackmail and aggression.

“She had better buckle down to grasping the level of its military preparedness before learning how to change her skirt into trousers and change her civilian dress into a military uniform,” KCNA said in the statement.

Express Regret

South Korea today expressed regret over the comments on Park. “North Korea should exercise restraint in behavior and word to improve the relationship,” Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung Suk said at a briefing today.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se said it’s important for North Korea to demonstrate its sincerity by implementing past pledges. “There needs to be specific action plans for denuclearization,” Yun told reporters at a separate briefing today.

Xi is due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in California next month in their first face-to-face talks since China’s power transition ended in March. Secretary of State John Kerry met last month in Beijing with officials including Xi and said afterward China is “very serious” about trying to bring North Korea in line.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sangwon Yoon in Seoul at syoon32@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

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