N. Korea openly vows to improve ties with S. Korea

September 9, 2014
In this Saturday, May 17, 2014 photo, a North Korean official apologizes in front of families of victims of an accident at an apartment construction site and local residents in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korean officials offered a rare public apology for the collapse of the apartment building under construction in Pyongyang, which a South Korean official said was believed to have caused considerable casualties that could mean hundreds might have died. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

It’s not clear whether North Korea’s conciliatory gesture represents a policy shift toward South Korea or whether it is just rhetoric not backed up by any action.

SEOUL (Yonhap) — North Korea’s premier called for better ties with South Korea on Tuesday amid lingering cross-border tensions over a series of Pyongyang’s military provocations, including its missile launches.

“We will do our best to improve North-South relations,” North Korean Premier Pak Pong-ju said in a speech marking the 66th anniversary of the country’s founding.

Still, he did not elaborate on specifics in his speech aired by the country’s state-run television.

Pak’s comments came a week after South Korean President Park Geun-hye urged North Korea to come forward for talks with Seoul to help improve bilateral relations which have plunged to one of their lowest points in years.

South Korea proposed that the two Koreas hold high-level talks in August to discuss the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War and other bilateral issues.

However, North Korea did not respond.

It was not immediately clear whether Pak’s conciliatory gesture represents a policy shift toward South Korea or whether it is just rhetoric not backed up by any action.

Pak’s comments came two days after North Korea warned that its ties with Seoul won’t improve unless the United States withdraws its troops from South Korea. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to help deter possible military aggression by the North.

In its latest provocations, North Korea on Saturday fired three short-range missiles into the sea off its east coast. The firing marked the 19th time that North Korea has launched missiles or rockets so far this year, with the number of projectiles fired totaling 111, according to South Korea’s military.

The North’s anniversary comes amid a flurry of diplomatic efforts to jump-start the long-stalled multilateral talks on ending Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programs.

South Korea’s top nuclear envoy, Hwang Joon-kook, arrived in Washington on Monday for talks with his U.S. counterpart on ways to resume the nuclear talks, which have been dormant since late 2008.

North Korea has called for an “unconditional” resumption of the talks, but Seoul and Washington insist that Pyongyang first take concrete steps to demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization before resuming the talks that also involve China, Russia and Japan.