US says proposed talks with N. Korea must be 'real'

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States on Sunday welcomed North Korea's proposal for high-level negotiations, but said it must first curb its nuclear programme, and it would not be able to talk its way out of global sanctions.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said negotiations have always been the administration's "preferred outcome", but that such talks would have to be "real" and "based on them living up to their obligations".

"We'll judge them by their actions, not by the nice words that we heard yesterday," he told CBS News' Face the Nation television show when asked about the offer of high-level negotiations on the denuclearisation of the divided peninsula.

"The bottom line is they're not going to be able to talk their way out of very significant sanctions they're under now, sanctions that Russia supported and - very importantly - that China supported."

Tensions have run high on the peninsula since the North's third nuclear test in February, which triggered new United Nations sanctions that ignited an angry response from Pyongyang, including threats of nuclear attacks on Seoul and Washington.

A rare high-level meeting between the two Koreas scheduled for June 12 and June 13, which would have been the first between the two sides for six years, was cancelled last Tuesday due to spats over protocol.

But on Sunday the North's powerful National Defence Commission issued a statement carried by the state media calling for negotiations with Washington.

"We propose senior-level talks between... the (North) and the US to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula and ensure peace and security in the region," it said.

The North is willing to have "broad and in-depth discussions" on issues such as the building of "a world without nuclear weapons" promoted by US President Barack Obama, it said, inviting Washington to set the time and venue.

"If the US has true intent on defusing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and ensuring peace and security in the US mainland and the region, it should not raise preconditions for dialogue and contact," it said.

The latest proposal came as the North was under mounting pressure to abandon its atomic arsenal and its belligerent behaviour, not only from the US and its ally the South, but also Pyongyang's sole major ally, China.

Mr Glyn Davies, the US point man on North Korea policy, last week repeated calls for the North to take steps to end its nuclear programme and warned that this year's crisis increased Washington's hesitancy to engage again.

The chief nuclear envoys of the US, the South and Japan are to meet in Washington on Wednesday to discuss ways to resume the long-stalled six-nation nuclear disarmament talks on the North.

The communist state said in Sunday's statement that it was committed to denuclearisation of the peninsula but defended its atomic arsenal as "self-defence" against what it said were US military and nuclear threats.

"The legitimate status of the (North) as a nuclear weapons state will go on... until... the nuclear threats from outside are put to a final end," it said, urging the US to scrap all sanctions against it.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who agreed at a summit with Mr Obama earlier this month that the North must give up its nuclear arsenal, is to hold talks with South Korean leader Park Geun Hye on June 27.

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