Pyongyang denies sanctions prompted diplomatic thaw

Mr Donald Trump and Mr Kim pictured in a March 9 edition of the Munhwa Ilbo newspaper in Seoul. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watching the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile last September. North Korean head of state Kim Yong Nam and Ms Kim Yo Jong wit
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watching the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile last September. PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr Donald Trump and Mr Kim pictured in a March 9 edition of the Munhwa Ilbo newspaper in Seoul. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watching the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile last September. North Korean head of state Kim Yong Nam and Ms Kim Yo Jong wit
North Korean head of state Kim Yong Nam and Ms Kim Yo Jong with Mr Moon Jae In at the Olympics.PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr Donald Trump and Mr Kim pictured in a March 9 edition of the Munhwa Ilbo newspaper in Seoul. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watching the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile last September. North Korean head of state Kim Yong Nam and Ms Kim Yo Jong wit
Mr Donald Trump and Mr Kim pictured in a March 9 edition of the Munhwa Ilbo newspaper in Seoul.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

State news agency slams hawks for doubting sincerity, motivation behind North's overtures

SEOUL • North Korea has broken its silence on the diplomatic thaw with Washington and Seoul, saying it is driving the "peace offensive" and rejecting suggestions that sanctions forced it to the negotiating table.

The commentary from the state-run KCNA news agency came with a rapid rapprochement on the Korean peninsula under way, after a period of heightened tensions stoked by missile and nuclear tests.

But as diplomats scurry to arrange two proposed summits - North-South talks followed by a face-to-face meeting between United States President Donald Trump and Pyongyang leader Kim Jong Un - the North's silence had raised concerns over its intentions.

The KCNA commentary late on Tuesday did not directly mention the summits, but noted the "dramatic atmosphere for reconciliation" with the South and "a sign of change" with the US.

It said Pyongyang's overtures came from a position of strength, not from weakness, even as it confronts intense international pressure and economic sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme.

"The dialogue peace offensive of the DPRK is an expression of self-confidence as it has acquired everything it desires," it said, using the North's official name.

It also slammed hawks in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo for questioning the sincerity and motivation behind the North's willingness to step back from the brink.

SIGN OF SELF-CONFIDENCE

The dialogue peace offensive of the DPRK is an expression of self-confidence as it has acquired everything it desires.

A COMMENTARY in Pyongyang's official news agency KCNA, using the North's official name.

Such rubbish as 'result of sanctions and pressure'... spread by hostile forces is just as meaningless as a dog barking at the moon.

THE COMMENTARY

"Such rubbish as 'result of sanctions and pressure'... spread by hostile forces is just as meaningless as a dog barking at the moon," said the commentary, urging "prudence" for all parties involved.

"It is really an expression of small-mindedness for the riff-raffs to spoil the atmosphere and say this or that, even before the parties concerned are given a chance to study the inner thoughts of the other side and are seated at a negotiating table," it said.

Since floating the idea for a summit with the US, "the North has been carefully watching how the situation is developing, including the US-South Korea joint military drills, before making it public to the people", said Professor Kim Yong Hyun of Dongguk University.

The South and the US announced on Tuesday a plan to resume annual joint military exercises on April 1, with its main drill shortened by a month - in an apparent conciliatory move as the event angers the North.

Professor Yang Moo Jin of the University of North Korean Studies said the North also needs time to prepare its people for a drastic policy turnaround towards the US.

  • Rise and easing of tensions

  • SEPT 3, 2017

    North Korea conducts its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, which it said is an advanced hydrogen bomb for a long-range missile, marking a dramatic escalation of the regime's stand-off with the United States and its allies. The nuclear test comes amid heightened regional tension following Pyongyang's two tests in July of intercontinental ballistic missiles that potentially could fly about 10,000km, putting many parts of the US mainland within range.

    SEPT 17

    US President Donald Trump calls North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un "Rocket Man", a slur inspired by Pyongyang's missile tests. He also warns that the US will be forced to "totally destroy" North Korea unless Pyongyang backs down from its nuclear challenge.

    SEPT 22

    Mr Kim hits back at Mr Trump, calling the former real estate mogul a "dotard", or old fool. The exchange of threats between the two leaders heightens concerns about another conflict on the Korean peninsula, once brought to ruins by the 1950-53 Korean War.

    JAN 1, 2018

    Mr Kim warns the US in his New Year's Day speech that he has a "nuclear button" on his desk ready for use if North Korea is threatened, but extends an olive branch to South Korea, saying he is "open to dialogue". South Korea reciprocates with an offer of talks with North Korea. 

    FEB 9 

    A North Korean delegation led by Ms Kim Yo Jong, younger sister of Mr Kim, arrives in South Korea to attend the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. During her trip, Ms Kim invites South Korea President Moon Jae In on behalf of her brother to visit the North. 

    MARCH 8

    Mr Trump agrees to a historic first meeting with Mr Kim. The North's official KCNA news agency does not directly mention the summit scheduled for May, but later obliquely acknowledges that plans for the meeting are under way.

"The North won't confirm the two summits until dates and venues are fixed and it needs to educate its people through party cells slowly for a policy U-turn," Prof Yang said.

Mr Trump's announcement earlier this month that he was willing to meet the North's leader - after an invitation conveyed by envoys from the South - has triggered a flurry of diplomatic activity.

The North's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho met his counterpart from Sweden, which represents Washington's interests in North Korea, in Stockholm over the weekend, with reports saying they discussed the release of three Americans detained in the North.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2018, with the headline 'Pyongyang denies sanctions prompted diplomatic thaw'. Print Edition | Subscribe