North Korea again proposes talks with South Korea

North Korea reiterated on Saturday a proposal for unconditional talks with South Korea to ease tensions on the divided peninsula.

The latest offer comes days after South Korea dismissed earlier calls by the North for negotiations.

Tensions between the two sides escalated after a North Korean artillery barrage on a South Korean-held island near their disputed maritime border killed four South Koreans in November.

The attack — the first on a civilian area since the 1950-53 Korean War — occurred in waters not far from where a North Korean torpedo allegedly brought down a South Korean warship eight months earlier. That attack killed 46 sailors. North Korea has denied responsibility.

“We do not want to see the present South Korean authorities pass the five-year term of their office idly without North-South dialogue,” the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency.

“There is neither conditionality in the North’s proposal for dialogue nor need to cast any doubt about its real intention,” the statement said.

North Korea also proposed holding separate talks later this month or in early February on other issues, including resuming a suspended joint tourism project and cooperation at an industrial complex in the border city of Kaesong. The North also suggested restarting suspended Red Cross talks on humanitarian issues.

North Korea said its offer was “a measure of good faith for opening the channel of dialogue and improving the North-South relations.”

“The South Korean authorities should discard any unnecessary misgiving, open their hearts and positively respond to the North’s proposal,” the statement said.

Unification Ministry Chun Hae-sung said South Korea would review the latest offer, noting North Korea has not sent an official request for talks.

The North this week called for unconditional and early talks with South Korea, but Seoul dismissed the offer and urged Pyongyang to show it has changed through actions, not words.

North Korea’s sudden willingness to talk fits a well-established and — for diplomats engaged in the often tortuous negotiations in the past — tiresome pattern. Pyongyang, the complaint goes, creates a crisis and, when panic and fear envelope Seoul, Washington and Tokyo, then offers the possibility of negotiations to win badly needed food, fuel and other aid.

Six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs have stumbled and were last held in December 2008.

Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said Thursday in Washington that North and South Korea should first reopen dialogue, and if Pyongyang “takes concrete actions,” the nuclear talks — involving the two Koreas, Japan, the United States, China and Russia — could resume.

The U.S. and South Korea have been vague about what they want from the North to restart talks. Washington has indicated an openness to a resumption but is urging the North to demonstrate it is serious about changing its behavior.

“We are open to dialogue, as we’ve said clearly, but there are definitely steps that North Korea must take to make it clear that actual face-to-face discussions would be constructive,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a briefing Friday.