North Korea rebuffs international offers to talk | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 15.04.2013
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North Korea rebuffs international offers to talk

As Kim Jong Un and senior leaders of the North Korean regime paid their respects at the mausoleum for his late father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, Pyongyang is continuing its war of words.

After weeks of claim and counter-claim by all sides with a stake in the standoff surrounding North Korea - and, more worryingly, action and counter-action involving B-2 bombers, an underground nuclear test and aggressive military drills on both sides of the border - there has been a conscious effort on the part of South Korea and the United States over the last few days to ease the tensions.

Over the weekend, US Secretary of State John Kerry told Chinese officials in Beijing that Washington would be willing to reduce its missile defense system in countries in Northeast Asia if Pyongyang would in turn halt its nuclear weapons program.

The message was delivered to the leadership in Beijing, but was clearly aimed at the watching regime in Pyongyang.

Attendees applaud during a central report meeting to celebrate the 101st birth anniversary of North Korean founder Kim Il-Sung, at the April 25 Culture Hall in Pyongyang, in this photo distributed by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency on April 14, 2013. (Photo: KCNA / Reuters)

North Korea celebrated the 101th birthday of Kim Il Sung on April 15

Li Keqiang, the Chinese premier, replied in a meeting with Kerry that the standoff with Pyongyang threatens to harm the national interests of all the states in the region and a spokesman for the Chinese government called for the six-party talks on removing nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula to be resumed as "the issue should be handled and resolved peacefully through dialogue and consultation."

South Korea offers to talk

South Korea has also moved to significantly soften its firmly held position against the government in Pyongyang, with President Park Guen-hye telling politicians that the door of communication with the North "always remains open" and she reiterated that the South would continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the North.

There have also been requests for the North to reopen the jointly operated Kaesong industrial park, which uses North Korean labor on the northern side of the frontier and has been an important source of hard currency for the regime.

On Saturday, South Korean police intervened to halt the planned launch by a group of activists of balloons carrying messages from the South over the Demilitarised Zone and the border into the North. An estimated 70 police officers stopped five activists - all defectors from the North - from releasing 100,000 leaflets attached to balloons near the city of Gimpo after Pyongyang warned it would retaliate.

State-run media sites said the launches were "an intolerable, provocative campaign" designed to smear the dignity of the North Korean leadership.

'Horrible tragedy'

"If the puppets let rag-tag bunches of misfits carry out such a circus as leaflet launches, a horrible tragedy will take place," the Uriminzokkiri website proclaimed. "At the moment, even if a single rubbish leaflet lands on our soil, the origin of the provocation will be blown up."

North Korean soldiers are seen through fences as they work with shovels on Hwanggumpyong Island, located in the middle of the Yalu River, near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, April 13, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Jacky Chen)

North Korea has been mobilizing its military

Activists said the police action was the first time that South Korean police had acted with such alacrity to halt a planned launch and experts say it is another indication of just how far the South is going to try to reach out to their counterparts in Pyongyang.

North Korea, however, does not appear to want to accept the olive branch.

On Sunday, a spokesman for the North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland told the KCNA news agency that the proposal for talks is nothing more than "a cunning ploy to hide the South's policy of confrontation and cover up its responsibility for putting the Kaesong Industrial Complex into a crisis."

The offer is "an empty shell" and any discussions would be "meaningless," the spokesman said.

And as North Korea marks today the 101st birthday of the founder of the nation, Kim Il Sung, there is still the possibility that his grandson and present leader of the nation might give the go-ahead for the much-anticipated launch of one or possibly two medium-range Musudan ballistic missiles from mobile launcher units on the east coast that US satellites have been tracking for the past week.

Domestic demonstration

As well as marking Kim's anniversary, any launch could be used as a demonstration to the North Korean people that their leaders are continuing to defy Washington, Seoul, Tokyo and any other country that dares to oppose their right to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se shake hands during their news conference at the foreign ministry in Seoul April 12, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won)

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US would support South Korean peace efforts

"It is very possible that maybe they will go ahead and fire the missiles, but I believe they will fire them into nowhere - like the ocean - and with a trajectory that cannot be seen as threatening to anyone else," Jun Okumura, a political analyst with the political risk research and consulting company Eurasia Group, told DW.

"I feel that Kim cannot just grasp the first olive branch that is offered by Seoul or Washington and go straight back to the negotiating table," he said. "They're making a lot of noise about the 'other side' making all the noise and all the fuss, but I expect that after a few more weeks of this standoff, we might see some easing of the situation.

"I imagine we will see the North proclaiming a great victory in which their leaders successfully faced down their enemies and scared them off with a single test launch of a missile," he added.

"They just need a decent interval for their own internal reasons and then we can go back to the 'normality' - if you can call it that - which we have seen on the Korean peninsula for the last 60 years."

The only scenario that might upset that theory, he admitted, would be North Korea misjudging the resolve of the nations arrayed against it and going ahead with a fourth underground nuclear test.

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