North Korea sends 'open letter' to South urging improved relations
Pyongyang sends 'open letter' to Seoul saying military drills with US are obstacle to better ties
Agence France-Presse in Seoul
North Korea yesterday urged a sceptical South Korea to respond to a recent series of trust-building gestures and again called on Seoul to cancel military drills with the United States.
The latest apparent olive branch came in the form of an "open letter" sent to the South Korean authorities by the North's top military body on the direct orders of leader Kim Jong-un in an effort to promote "reconciliation and unity".
Carried by the North's official KCNA news agency, the letter followed up on a series of confidence-building proposals that South Korea has already dismissed as a "deceptive" propaganda exercise.
"What is important for paving a wide avenue for mending North-South relations is to make a bold decision to stop all hostile military acts, the biggest hurdle stoking distrust and confrontation," the letter from the National Defence Commission (NDC) said.
A week earlier, the NDC had sent several proposals, urging South Korea to cancel the joint exercises with the United States.
Seoul not only dismissed the overtures, but warned that Pyongyang may well be laying the ground for a military confrontation.
"Regretfully, the South Korean authorities still remain unchanged in their improper attitude and negative stand," the NDC letter said.
The South "should not thoughtlessly doubt, misinterpret and rashly reject our sincere, important proposal," it added.
South Korea's Unification Ministry said it would respond to the letter, while Defence Ministry spokesman Wi Yong-Seop warned of the "enemy's hidden motive".
Temperatures on the Korean peninsula traditionally rise ahead of the annual South Korean-US drills, which Pyongyang routinely condemns as a rehearsal for invasion. Last year they coincided with a surge in tensions, which saw the North threatening pre-emptive nuclear strikes.
In its letter, the NDC stressed that its opposition lay solely in the participation of US forces in the exercises.
North Korea "did not urge the South Korean authorities to stop ordinary military drills", it said.
"It urged them to halt drills for a war of aggression to be staged against their compatriots in collusion with outside forces."
The NDC said it had also taken the "unilateral" step of halting all cross-border "slandering", despite the South's dismissive response to its proposal a week ago.
The South's Unification Ministry had scoffed at the idea, arguing that the only "slander" was propagated by Pyongyang's propaganda machine.
The NDC letter underlined the North's supposed desire for denuclearisation, but argued that the real obstacle was South Korea.
"Before finding fault with the precious nuclear force for self-defence to which [North Korea] has access, they should make a bold decision to stop their dangerous acts of introducing outsiders' nukes," it said, referring again to the military exercises.