January 6, 2011 / 4:45 AM / 8 years ago

Seoul rejects North Korea's talks offer as "propaganda"

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea has dismissed a North Korean call for unconditional talks to ease tensions, saying on Thursday the offer was “propaganda” it does not take seriously.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (3rd R, 2nd row) attends a ministers' meeting held to check the spread of foot-and-mouth disease across the country, at the presidential Blue House in Seoul January 6, 2011. REUTERS/The Blue House/Handout

The North’s move on Wednesday came as the United States met Chinese and South Korean officials for talks on how to calm the Korean peninsula and persuade the North to stop its nuclear work.

Seoul, which wants an apology after North Korea’s deadly shelling of a South Korean island off disputed waters in November, said Pyongyang’s call for talks was an empty gesture.

“North Korea previously issued statements like this early in the year ... they are normally done as part of (a) propaganda campaign towards the South,” a Unification Ministry official said.

“We do not consider this is as a serious proposal for dialogue. It is not even in the correct and appropriate format.”

The artillery fire, and the March 2010 sinking of a South Korean ship blamed on the North despite its denials, have raised tension in Asia and increased the pressure to resume talks.

Washington, which is urging Beijing to rein in its ally North Korea, has sent its envoy Stephen Bosworth to Asia for talks. He is in China on Thursday and will be in Japan on Friday.

Analysts say Pyongyang’s military aggression and unveiling of a previously-undisclosed nuclear enrichment facility are ways of raising the stakes ahead of potential six-party talks, a forum in which it has previously won substantial aid.

“Both sides had a deep exchange of views on the situation on the Korean peninsula and on the six-party talks,” China’s Foreign Ministry said after Bosworth met with officials.

“Both sides agreed to continue working hard to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and to push forward the six-party talk process.”

Although both Koreas have called for dialogue to solve the crisis, the South, like Washington, is loath to be seen rewarding the North’s actions with the talks and concessions it desires.

TALKS OR TENSIONS?

“Whether this (North-South) exchange is a sincere step back from the brink or simply a pause before a new round of tension is still uncertain,” Abraham Kim and Jack Pritchard from the Korea Economic Institute wrote in a note.

“It is not the first time for Pyongyang to be more reconciliatory after a series of provocations.”

Pyongyang walked out of the aid-for-disarmament talks with the South, United States, Russia, Japan and China in 2008. It then expelled U.N. atomic monitors and had a second nuclear test.

Pyongyang’s offer for talks was run on the North’s official KCNA news agency which said the statement, in an unusual step, was issued collectively by the North’s government, the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea and other organisations.

“We call for an unconditional and early opening of talks between the authorities having real power and responsibility,” the statement said.

The United States suggested the North must first stop provoking its neighbour, recommit to a 2005 nuclear pact and take responsibility for recent attacks.

The South Korean official said the North was using the statement for domestic purposes and that Pyongyang needed to convince the outside world that it was serious.

“The North needs to show, not simply by making offers for dialogue, that it is genuine in its intentions, in the wake of the series of events that have taken place.”

Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Daniel Magnowski

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