North Korea makes offer for dialogue with South, provided it scraps joint exercises with US

US soldiers hold the flags of South Korea (top) and the US (right) before a South Korea-US Combined Division activation ceremony at a US Army base in Uijeongbu, north of Seoul, on June 3, 2015. North Korea said on Monday, June 15, that it is rea
US soldiers hold the flags of South Korea (top) and the US (right) before a South Korea-US Combined Division activation ceremony at a US Army base in Uijeongbu, north of Seoul, on June 3, 2015. North Korea said on Monday, June 15, that it is ready to restart talks with the South if Seoul scraps joint military exercises with the US. -- PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea said on Monday that it is ready to restart talks with the South if Seoul scraps joint military exercises with the United States.

The offer came on the 15th anniversary of a landmark summit between then South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and North Korea's late leader Kim Jong Il, which saw a joint declaration issued on reconciliation and cooperation.

"There is no reason to avoid dialogue and negotiations if an atmosphere for trust and reconciliation is created," the North said in a government statement carried by its official Korean Central News Agency.

The South should take "bold" steps to remove obstacles hampering dialogue by scrapping joint military drills with the United States and should stop slandering Pyongyang's leadership, the statement said.

North Korea sees annual joint US-South Korean military exercises, most recently carried out in March and April, as a rehearsal for invasion. It has previously stipulated an end to the drills are a condition for talks.

Cross-border tensions remain high this year due to a series of North Korean ballistic missile tests as well as nuclear threats.

In a January 1 message, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un proposed the "highest-level" talks with the South.

The last round of high-level talks was held in February 2014 and resulted in the North hosting a reunion between separated families the same month - the first such event for three years.

Seoul has separately suggested holding talks with the North, but the prospect for any meaningful dialogue is still unclear.

Seoul has rejected the North's frequent calls to halt military drills with key ally, the US.

It has also refused to pave the way for talks by lifting sanctions imposed in 2010, saying its desire to resume dialogue does not extend to "coaxing" Pyongyang to the negotiating table.