Seoul press doubtful over North Korea dialogue offer

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea's press on Saturday expressed scepticism over an apparent offer by North Korea that it was willing to return to six-party nuclear disarmament talks.

North Korean special envoy Choe Ryong Hae met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday and reportedly handed him a letter from leader Kim Jong-Un in a sign Pyongyang may be backing away from confrontation with the international community.

Mr Choe told Mr Xi that North Korea was willing to take positive actions to solve problems through dialogue, China's official Xinhua news agency said, after months of high tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests.

Mr Choe was quoted as saying dialogue included the long-stalled six-party talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programme, chaired by China and also attended by South Korea, the United States, Russia and Japan.

"North Korea appears to be backing away from provocative acts and extending an olive branch," South Korea's largest circulation daily Chosun Ilbo said in an editorial.

"But we must not leap to a conclusion that North Korea is seriously minded to come to the dialogue table for denuclearisation. It is more interested in mollifying an angry China.

"North Korea has offered talks for talks' sake and it has no intention to disarm. No matter what kind of dialogue may take place down the road, the North must not be allowed to play for time."

There was no comment from the South Korean government but Yonhap news agency said officials were mostly sceptical.

"Who would believe what the North said now after it said so many times it will push through with a policy of promoting both nuclear buildup and economic development?" said one government official quoted by Yonhap.

The Joongang Ilbo also said it remained unclear whether North Korea would come back to the six-party dialogue but its latest gesture meant it has "not lost touch with reality to step back when necessary".

"Since it detonated a nuclear device in February, North Korea said it won't discuss denuclearisation and that any future talks with the US would be strictly about mutual disarmament."

The United States and its allies demand the North should make a clearcut commitment to ending its nuclear programmes before such talks may resume.

"Talks for the sake of talks are meaningless. They are meaningful only when they are intended to denuclearise North Korea. Yet Pyongyang has not shown any intention of giving up its nuclear programmes", the Korea Herald said editorially.