SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea delivered a stinging rejection of the South’s proposal for a series of three presidential summits over the next year, giving a blow-by-blow account on Wednesday of a secret meeting between officials of the two countries last month.
A spokesman for the National Defense Commission, the North’s supreme leadership body, said a trio of South Korean officials — from the presidential office, intelligence service and the Unification Ministry — had tried to persuade the North in a meeting in Beijing to agree to the summits to defuse tensions.
The North’s representatives “told them to go back to Seoul at once,” he said, according to state media in an embarrassing outline of the meeting which could further strain ties between the neighbors.
Seoul said it was regrettable the North had delivered such a one-sided account and that it did not help to improve Korean relations, but added it stood by its call for dialogue.
The announcement came two days after the same North Korean commission said it would no longer deal with conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, and that it was cutting two of the few remaining channels of inter-Korean dialogue.
“We have made it clear there would never be a summit meeting as long as the South maintains a hostile policy and insists (North Korea) should abandon its nuclear program and apologisapologizee over the two incidents,” KCNA state news agency quoted the commission spokesman as saying.
As a precondition for bilateral talks, the South demands that the North apologize for two deadly attacks on the peninsula last year that killed 50 South Koreans.
The North denies responsibility for the first attack, the sinking of the Cheonan warship, and says it was provoked into bombarding Yeonpyeong Island after the South had test-fired shells into nearby disputed waters.
In between the attacks, the North unveiled a uranium enrichment program which opens a second route to make a nuclear bomb alongside its plutonium program.
The South proposed the first summit be held at the border village of Panmunjom in June, a second in August in the North’s capital, Pyongyang, and a third on the sidelines of an international nuclear summit in the South next year, the North’s spokesman said.
The North said that after rejecting the offer, the South then “begged” for a concession, saying it would be acceptable if the North expressed “regret.” It added the South even offered an “envelop of cash” as an inducement.
“The National Defense Commission spokesman’s announcement today in a way of conversation with KCNA is a one-sided claim that distorted our true motive and we find it unnecessary to deal with it one by one,” retorted a Unification Ministry spokesman in Seoul.
Lee ended a decade of aid without conditions to the North when he took office in 2008 and demanded Pyongyang’s leader disarm as a condition for resuming aid and dialogue, angering the reclusive state.
At the beginning of this year, the two Koreas said they wanted to ease tension and agreed to negotiations, but subsequent military talks broke down quickly without even agreement on an agenda.
Since then, Lee has extended the offer of a summit on a number of occasions, setting as a precondition the North’s apology for the two attacks.
Last month, North Korea dismissed Lee’s offer to the North’s leader, Kim Jong-il, to join the leaders of about 50 other countries at a nuclear summit in Seoul next year, saying it was “ridiculous” the South was hosting the event.
Both the United States and China — the main allies of the South and North, respectively — have urged the rivals to return to the negotiating table to sort out their differences to allow for the resumption of stalled nuclear talks.
The North walked out of the aid-for-disarmament talks more than two years ago after the United Nations imposed a new round of sanctions against it for conducting nuclear and missile tests.
Regional powers have agreed on step-by-step process to restart the six-party forum, which involves the two Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.
First, there must be meaningful bilateral dialogue between the two Koreas. That can then be followed by U.S.-North Korea dialogue, and lastly the six-party talks.
Seoul and Washington are skeptical about the North’s intentions, saying its nuclear advances last year show it is not sincere about disabling its atomic program.
Few people believe the secretive North will ever give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons, saying they serve as a deterrent against attack as well as being the ultimate bargaining chip.
Additional reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani