GENEVA (AFP) – North Korea said Wednesday it was ready to hold international talks in a bid to calm regional tensions, blaming Washington for stoking strife through military exercises with South Korea.
"We are now ready to have any kind of talks to ease the tensions in the Korean peninsula and to solve any kind of issue, mostly security issues," the country's envoy to the United Nations in Geneva, So Se Pyong, told reporters.
North Korea has shunned six-nation negotiations -- involving the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan -- on its nuclear programme since late 2008.
Pyongyang was however currently engaged in rare talks with Seoul on the re-opening a joint industrial zone seen as the last remaining symbol of cross-border reconciliation.
While the two parties failed to reach a deal on Wednesday, they have agreed to meet again next week.
So's decision to invite the press to his country's embassy on the shores of Lake Geneva was highly unusual.
He reiterated positions set out last month in New York by North Korea's ambassador to the UN's headquarters at an equally rare press conference.
The bulk of So's 90-minute briefing, given in English, was devoted to criticism of the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea.
Their regular joint military exercises infuriate Pyongyang.
Tensions rose in the region earlier this year over North Korea's nuclear bomb and missile tests, leading the UN and individual countries to ratchet up sanctions against the isolated Stalinist nation.
The envoy reaffirmed that North Korea had every right to defend itself.
"We have to build up our defence. With that defence system and power, we are safe," he said, adding that North Korea would "never give up its nuclear deterrent unless the US withdraws its hostile forces".
The envoy slammed joint US-South Korean war games held after what he said was North Korea's peaceful satellite launch in December.
"After the war games, the situation is now coming down to be detente and the atmosphere of dialogue is in progress. This 100 percent shows that such kind of joint military exercises are the main cause of causes of tension in the Korean peninsula," he said.
"The US will stage another joint military exercise in August," he underlined. "In this case, the whole Korean peninsula will fall again to the same critical war time situation."
North Korea has said it wants talks to replace the July 1953 armistice which halted but did not formally end the three-year Korean War.
"If this ceasefire is transformed into a peace treaty, peace and security might be guaranteed," So said.
He also called for the formal abolition of the UN Command in South Korea -- a US-led force mandated by UN members when the Korea War erupted in 1950.
"It is crystal clear that the so-called UN Command, that has nothing do to with the UN, should be dissolved," he insisted, calling it a tool to "dominate Asia".
"If the United States makes a bold decision to dissolve the UN Command, we will be also in favour of taking bilateral confidence in response," he added.