SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Saturday it was willing to return to nuclear disarmament talks and signaled satisfaction that a U.N. Security Council statement did not directly blame it for the sinking of a South Korean warship.
China, the North’s sole key ally, urged regional powers to put the navy ship sinking behind them and return to the negotiating table to end a cycle of confrontation that has raised security tensions to new heights since late March.
On Friday, the Security Council condemned the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in March that killed 46 sailors but stopped short of directly blaming North Korea, an outcome hailed by Pyongyang’s U.N. ambassador as “a great diplomatic victory.”
Six-way nuclear talks involving North and South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China have been in limbo since 2007 and a 2005 disarmament deal appeared to lose relevance when Pyongyang tested a long-range missile and a nuclear device.
“The DPRK will make consistent efforts for the conclusion of a peace treaty and the denuclearization through the six-party talks conducted on equal footing,” the North’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said in comments carried by the KCNA news agency.
DPRK is short for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“We take note of the ... statement saying that ‘the Security Council encourages the settlement of outstanding issues on the Korean Peninsula by peaceful means to resume direct dialogue and negotiation through appropriate channels’,” it added.
A South Korea-led investigation concluded that a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan. Pyongyang has denied any involvement in the incident, saying it was a fabrication by the South aimed at politically damaging Pyongyang’s leaders.
The Security Council statement, by not identifying an attacker, was able to win consent from Pyongyang’s ally China for unanimous approval.
China, which had been the host of the six-way talks that began in 2003, urged regional powers to “flip the page of the Cheonan incident” and quickly resume those negotiations.
“We call for an early resumption of the six-party talks and joint efforts to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.
South Korea and the United States have previously said the North must first admit responsibility for the Cheonan incident before they would consider the resumption of the six-way forum.
Seoul did not immediately have comment on the North’s gesture to shrug off the attack, which analysts said was carried out to divert attention from domestic economic woes and to consolidate Kim Jong-il’s power to help pave the way for his son to eventually succeed him.
Washington did not immediately respond to the North’s offer to resume talks at the multilateral forum.
“At this point we want to let North Korea absorb the fact that the international community has condemned the Cheonan incident,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said when asked about North Korea’s offer to return to nuclear talks.
North Korea has consistently sought talks with Washington, claiming the status of a legitimate nuclear power, and has also demanded new negotiations to replace the armistice ending the 1950-53 Korean War with a permanent peace treaty.
South Korea and the United States have rejected the idea of peace talks, saying the dismantling of the North’s nuclear program in an irreversible manner must come first.
Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington; Editing by Alex Richardson