Despite calls in its annual New Year’s message for a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons, the communist North, which has conducted two nuclear tests since 2006, also said its military is ready for “prompt, merciless and annihilatory action” against its enemies.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North, said the editorial carried in the official Korean Central News Agency, even with its tough rhetoric, showed the North’s interest in resuming talks with the South.
The annual holiday message is scrutinized by officials and analysts in neighboring countries for policy clues. This year, it received special attention after the North’s Nov. 23 artillery shelling of a South Korean island near the countries’ disputed western sea border, the first attack on a civilian area since the 1950-53 Korean War.
That barrage, which followed an alleged North Korean torpedoing of a South Korean warship in March, sent tensions between the Koreas soaring and fueled fears of war during the last weeks of 2010.