North Korea's first official response to South Korea's invitation for dialogue to improve relations between the two nations came in the form of an ultimatum: Seoul must first remove its sanctions against the North before any diplomacy can take place. Pyongyang has shown multiple indications since the start of the year that it is open to the idea of resuming inter-Korea talks despite the two Koreas having been divided since the Korean War of 1950-53.
"If the South Korean government is sincerely interested in humanitarian issues, it should first remove the ban that was imposed for the purpose of confrontation," a spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea told the North's KCNA state news agency, according to Reuters.
Pyongyang specifically refers to the sanctions South Korea imposed on the North after a 2010 attack on one of its naval vessels. South Korea has said it was willing to discuss those sanctions as a way to progress the talks after North Korean officials made a surprise visit to the closing ceremony of the Asian Games last October, according to Reuters.
The sanctions were imposed in May 2010 after the North Korean navy fired a torpedo at a South Korean ship, killing 46 sailors. The North, however, has denied any responsibility. The sanctions cut off most political and commercial exchanges with North Korea, and the country still technically remains at war since its civil war more than five decades ago.
Kim first gave indications that he was willing to conduct high-level talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye in his New Year's address, and Park said last Monday that she was willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without any preconditions.
North Korea already faces multiple sanctions from the United Nations and various countries around the world, with the United States recently calling for even more sanctions in response to Pyongyang’s alleged hack into Sony Pictures in December in an effort to suppress the comedy film “The Interview.” Pyongyang has maintained its innocence, saying that “(it) is an inveterate habit of the U.S. to render the situation strained whenever an opportunity for inter-Korean dialogue presents on the Korean Peninsula,” Ri Jong Chol, North Korean scholar from the Academy of Social Sciences of the DPRK told KCNA on Friday.
North Korea also said that it would suspend nuclear tests if the United States and South Korea stopped their annual joint military exercises, which Pyongyang describes as “preparations for invasion,” according to Reuters. Both the United States and South Korea refused that call.