N. Korea Says Talks Possible Once Nuclear Deterrence Is Set

North Korea said talks with the U.S. are possible once it has sufficient nuclear weapons to deter an attack, setting a condition the U.S. ruled out today after weeks of threats from Kim Jong Un’s regime.

“Genuine dialogue is possible only at the phase where the DPRK has acquired nuclear deterrent enough to defuse the U.S. threat of nuclear war unless the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency yesterday said, citing a Foreign Ministry spokesman. The country’s official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said today that prospects for negotiations depend on progress toward ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons efforts.

“We’re not going to reward them, and come to the table, and get into some food deal, without some pretty ironclad concept on how we’re going forward on the denuclearization,” Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee today.

President Barack Obama said yesterday that the U.S. doesn’t think North Korea has the ability to launch a nuclear-armed missile, adding that he refuses to reward North Korea’s “provocative behavior.” The U.S. expects additional provocations in “the next several weeks,” he said in a recorded interview broadcast yesterday on NBC’s “Today” show.

Preventing Miscalculations

Obama said it is difficult to predict what Kim, who inherited his position from his late father Kim Jong Il in December 2011 and is believed to be under 30, will do. North Korea has repeatedly said the region is on the brink of war since testing an atomic bomb in February in defiance of increased United Nations sanctions, and has threatened to launch preemptive nuclear strikes on the U.S. and South Korea.

“Based on our current intelligence assessments, we do not think that they have that capacity,” Obama said, adding that the U.S. has repositioned missile defenses “to guard against any miscalculation on their part.”

The North today rejected a request by South Korean business owners to visit the jointly-run Gaeseong industrial complex north of the demilitarized zone, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung Suk said today in Seoul. The owners wanted to check the status of their assets there since operations were suspended last week, Kim said. The factory park has been shuttered since April 9 when the North withdrew its 53,000 laborers working for 123 South Korean companies.

Banging Spoon

Obama said he hopes that eventually Kim’s government will show a willingness to discuss issues diplomatically.

“You don’t get to bang your spoon on the table and somehow you get your way,” he said.

North Korea early yesterday threatened to attack South Korea at any time in retaliation for a protest in Seoul where portraits of the North’s leaders were set on fire. The country is celebrating the April 15 birthday of state founder Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather.

While a missile or nuclear weapons test remains possible given the hostile rhetoric from the totalitarian state over the past several weeks, there are no signs North Korean forces are mobilizing, a U.S. Forces Korea official said yesterday.

“North Korea right now seems to be weighing whether it’s more beneficial to restart talks with the U.S. or South Korea,” said Hahm Hyeong Pil, an analyst at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. “If they want to appeal to the U.S., then the North will continue to escalate tensions with more threats and if it chooses the South, then it will not fire a missile.”

Attack Possibilities

The recent rhetoric from the North has been conditional, and the possibility of an attack always hinged on what the U.S. or South Korea may do to avert one, the U.S. Forces Korea official told reporters yesterday in Seoul, asking not to be named in line with military policy. North Korea should look to its options for ending the cycle of escalated tensions, the official said.

Should North Korea choose to launch a missile, it probably will be a short-range one that falls into the sea, the official said, adding that neither the U.S. nor South Korea will know about any launch until it is airborne.

Kerry this week ended a trip to Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo by calling for dialogue with Kim’s regime, while saying a nuclear-armed North Korea was unacceptable. South Korean President Park Geun Hye on April 11 offered to restart talks with North Korea.

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