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North Korea says it is willing to return to nuclear disarmament talks; South wants proof

North Korea says it is willing to return to nuclear disarmament talks.

South Korean soldiers look at a poster of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, painted by North Korean defector Sun Moo, at the Korean War exhibition in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, July 7, 2010. North Korea sent nearly three dozen relatives of former economic officials to a prison camp over the country's botched currency reform, a South Korean aid group Good Friends said on its website Tuesday. (AP)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea expressed willingness Saturday to return to international nuclear disarmament talks, a sign it is satisfied with the U.N. Security Council's decision to avoid directly blaming it for the sinking of a South Korean warship.

South Korea responded to the announcement with caution, saying it wanted proof.

In a presidential statement Friday, the Security Council expressed "deep concern" about the March sinking of the 1,200-ton Cheonan, and findings by a South Korean-led international investigation that North Korea had torpedoed the ship. But it refrained from directly condemning North Korea — something the North had warned could trigger a military response.

A peace treaty was never signed after the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with a cease-fire, leaving the two Koreas still technically at war.

North Korea "will make consistent efforts for the conclusion of a peace treaty and the denuclearization through the six-party talks conducted on equal footing," its Foreign Ministry said Saturday in comments carried by the country's official Korean Central News Agency.

That raised hopes North Korea would return to the nuclear talks, stalled since December 2008.

South Korea said it would consult with other countries on how to push for North Korea's denuclearization, and would closely monitor the North's actions following the Security Council statement.

North Korea should "clearly show its commitment to denuclearization," South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun said, without elaborating. He urged the North to clearly acknowledge and apologize for the sinking of the Cheonan, in which 46 sailors died.

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Beijing hoped relevant parties could "turn over the page on the Cheonan incident as soon as possible."

"We call for an early resumption of the six-party talks and joint efforts to maintain the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula," Qin said in a statement. Beijing has hosted the nuclear talks, which involve China, Russia, the two Koreas, Japan and the U.S.

North Korea quit the nuclear negotiations in April last year in anger over a U.N. rebuke of its long-range rocket launch. Since then, its communist government has further ratcheted up tensions, conducting a second nuclear test and a series of missile launches.

South Korea has imposed separate measures against North Korea to punish it over the warship sinking. It installed 11 loudspeakers along the border with North Korea to blare propaganda, but has yet to start the broadcasts.

South Korea has also vowed to hold military exercises with the United States, but the Defense Ministry said Saturday the exact timing and scale of the drills off the country's western coast have not been finalized. The exercises were originally scheduled for last month.

North Korea's Foreign Ministry also warned Saturday that any provocations or sanctions imposed by South Korea and the U.S. "in contravention of the presidential statement" would be met by "strong physical retaliation."