N Korea calls for 'unconditional' talks with South

North Korea proposed “unconditional and early” talks with the South on Wednesday to mend battered cross-border ties, as a top United States envoy arrived in Beijing for meetings on the Korean peninsula crisis.

In an unusually conciliatory statement carried by its KCNA agency, Pyongyang said the communist nation “courteously proposes having wide-ranging dialogue and negotiations” with South Korea.

“In order to mend the north-south relations, now at the lowest ebb, we will conduct positive dialogue and negotiations ... be they authorities or civilians, ruling parties or opposition parties, progressives or conservatives,” said the statement.

It said Pyongyang is “ready to meet anyone anytime anywhere” and called for “unconditional and early opening of talks” among officials with “real power and responsibility”, it said.

The move from Pyongyang came two days after South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak reached out to the North, offering closer economic ties if it changes its course.

Call for improved relations
In his New Year policy address, delivered after Pyongyang called for improved relations in 2011, Lee said the door for talks was “still open” if North Korea shows sincerity to mend ties.

Relations between the two Koreas were stretched to breaking point after the North shelled a South Korean island on the disputed border in November, killing four people, including two civilians.

The South has since staged a series of military exercises, including a live-fire drill on December 20 on the island, but the North did not follow through with threats of a new and deadlier attack.

Earlier on Wednesday the top US envoy on North Korea arrived in Beijing to hold talks with Pyongyang’s main ally China, after a visit to Seoul focused on reducing frictions on the peninsula.

Stephen Bosworth’s three-nation tour comes six weeks after the North shelled the frontier island of Yeonpyeong, killing four South Koreans, including two civilians, and sending tensions in the region to their highest level in years.—AFP

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