North Korea Wants to Talk

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has been full of tough talk lately. His regime threatened “retaliatory sacred war” in response to recent joint U.S. and South Korean naval exercises, and that was only the latest threat against Washington and Seoul since they blamed the North for sinking the warship Cheonan in March. But despite the belligerent stance, North Korea seems to be growing desperate for talks. At the outset of the Cheonan crisis, Pyongyang said it would never deal with Seoul as long as President Lee Myung-bak remained in power. That threat seems forgotten now. Even as it rattles its sabers, the North says it will “make consistent efforts” to negotiate a peace agreement and disarm its nukes.

North Korea rarely, if ever, softens up to this extent, so why now? One theory is that Kim Jong-il doesn’t want a crisis while he is trying to choose a successor. Others think it’s a negotiation ploy: Pyongyang could seek the moral high ground by claiming it sought peace only to find war games in its backyard. Washington and Seoul insist there’s no point in talking until the North starts behaving. And with new sanctions and another military exercise slated for later this month, Kim’s sweet talk may not last long.

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