N.Korea Calls for Talks As Sanctions Bite

      May 23, 2016 09:19

      North Korea in a message on Saturday called for urgent military talks with Seoul in the next few weeks. The North Korean military sent the message to the Defense Ministry here, saying the talks should be held at a "convenient time and place" in late May or early June.

      The next day, the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, which handles inter-Korean affairs, also said Seoul and Pyongyang must urgently hold military talks.

      The ministry declined, reiterating that North Korea must first take palpable steps toward denuclearization.

      Pyongyang sent the message through a military hotline it had earlier severed unilaterally after the South pulled its workers out of the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex in February.

      Also on Saturday Kim Yong-chol, who serves as head of the United Front Department, left Pyongyang on a trip to Cuba. And a day earlier Kim Yong-nam, the perennial president of the Supreme People's Assembly, attended the inauguration ceremony of the president of Equatorial Guinea.

      It appears that North Korea is minded to break its international isolation now that a massive party congress earlier this month has consolidated the new power structure.

      A Foreign Ministry official here said, "North Korea is struggling to find an escape route as international sanctions increase pressure."

      Pyongyang appears to have been jolted by tough sanctions announced by traditional ally Russia as well as Switzerland, where leader Kim Jong-un attended boarding school and holds vast slush funds in secret bank accounts.

      "By sending envoys to Cuba and Equatorial Guinea, North Korea appears to be moving to consolidate ties with its few remaining allies," a diplomatic source said.

      The proposal of military talks seems mainly aimed at halting propaganda broadcasts along the border. One military officer said, "North Korea is trying to appear nonchalant about South Korea's resumption of propaganda broadcasts after the North's latest nuclear test, but it's clear that Pyongyang is wearying of the constant insults aimed at its leader and demoralization of troops stationed along the DMZ."

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