North Korea Offers Nuclear-Test Halt If U.S. Stops Drills

SKOREA-US-MILITARY

A US soldier wears a gas mask during a training exercise in South Korea.

Photographer: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images
  • U.S., South Korea, Japan poised for talks on sanctions
  • Statement outlines North Korean terms after Jan. 6 blast

North Korea offered to stop nuclear testing if the U.S. suspends joint military drills with South Korea, as the U.S. and Japan ratchet up their diplomatic efforts to punish the isolated regime for its fourth nuclear test.

North Korea will not provide anyone with its nuclear weapons, transfer-related technology or use its bombs “recklessly,” its Foreign Ministry said Friday in a statement released through the official Korean Central News Agency. The country will still arm itself with the ability to attack and retaliate with nuclear bombs and the U.S. should “get used to North Korea as a nuclear-armed state,” it said.

Senior U.S., South Korean and Japanese diplomats plan to meet in Tokyo on Saturday to consider tougher sanctions against North Korea and winning China’s backing. North Korea’s statement outlines its terms for the first time since the Kim Jong Un regime detonated what it claimed to be a hydrogen bomb Jan. 6.

“It’s not a very convincing offer -- that we will offer not to be even more the monster and more provocative,” John Nilsson-Wright, head of the Asia Programme at Chatham House, said by phone. “By stepping back from that very provocative position, they can appear to be looking conciliatory, but I would argue any demand from the North that the U.S. suspend its long-term military drills on the Korean peninsula is a non-starter.”

‘Odd Provocation’

The U.S. has maintained that its military exercises in South Korea are purely defensive while North Korea says they are preparations for invasion. The government in Pyongyang repeated its demand for a peace treaty with the U.S. to formally close the 1950-53 Korean War, which technically continues to this day because it ended in a truce.

The latest nuclear blast prompted South Korea to resume propaganda broadcasts against the Kim regime in the demilitarized zone and the U.S. to fly a B-52 bomber south of the border in a show of force against the Pyongyang government. On Wednesday, the nuclear negotiators of the U.S., South Korea and Japan met in Seoul to start discussions on drawing up tougher sanctions against North Korea at the United Nations Security Council. China, a veto-wielding member of the council and North Korea’s only major ally, has called for a return to disarmament talks to address the nuclear impasse.

North Korea isn’t interested in escalating tensions, and South Korea’s propaganda broadcasts are an “odd provocation,” the ministry said. North Korea needs a stable and peaceful environment to achieve its top goal of developing the economy, it said.

North Korea tested nuclear devices in 2006, 2009 and 2013, each detonation leading to tougher sanctions against the country. International disarmament talks have not taken place since 2008 and the U.S. says it will not agree to rejoin the negotiations until Pyongyang shows clear steps toward freezing its nuclear-arms program.