North Korea urges South to accept leader Kim Jong Un's offer of military talks to ease tensions

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (centre) at the Tonghungsan Machine Plant in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (centre) at the Tonghungsan Machine Plant in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea urged South Korea on Friday (May 20) to accept leader Kim Jong Un's proposal for military talks and ease tensions that surged after the North's fourth nuclear test in January.

Mr Kim had offered the military dialogue during a marathon speech to the recently concluded congress of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party - the first event of its kind for more than 35 years.

At the time, Seoul dismissed the proposal as meaningless propaganda - noting that the lion's share of Mr Kim's speech had been devoted to talking up the North's nuclear weapons programme.

In an "open letter" published on Friday by the official KCNA news agency, the North's National Defence Commission said urgent steps were needed to overcome the current "catastrophic state" of inter-Korean ties.

"South Korea must actively respond to our proposal to hold military talks," the letter said, adding that peace could not be achieved at "gunpoint".

"We are proposing to put all issues of interest on the table to openly discuss and resolve them," it said.

The "open letter" format reflects the complete absence of direct communication between the two countries after the North announced in February it was cutting the last two remaining hotlines with the South.

The hotlines themselves were never used for conversational diplomacy, but they were key to setting up meetings where such discussions could take place.

The letter also demanded that Seoul halt all "hostile actions" such as loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts, and prevent activists floating anti-North leaflets over the border by balloon.

After the Jan 6 nuclear test, the South began blasting a mix of news, propaganda messages and Korean pop music across the border using giant banks of loudspeakers.

"South Korea must clearly recognise that only dialogue and negotiation will lead to progress in North-South relations," the commission said.

Seoul insists it will only consider engaging in substantive dialogue with Pyongyang if the regime takes a tangible step towards denuclearisation.

The North has repeatedly said its nuclear arsenal is not up for negotiation.