North Korea Monday proposed that the two Koreas halt hostile military activities starting later this week — an apparent show of its desire for peace before a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The surprise suggestion from the North’s top military body, the National Defence Commission, was reported by the official KCNA news agency.
It was made hours after the nation confirmed its second missile test in recent days.
The commission said the North was ready to suspend all acts of verbal provocation and slander from Friday, and urged the South to reciprocate.
Pyongyang also called for an end to live-fire drills and other hostile military activities near the disputed sea border in the Yellow Sea from Friday.
The maritime border is a frequent flashpoint. There have been no direct military clashes there since 2010 but the two sides intermittently fire warning shots or engage in live-fire drills.
The North also urged the South to scrap its annual joint military exercises with the United States slated for August, to create a favourable mood for this year’s Asian Games in the South Korean city of Incheon.
Pyongyang has promised to send athletes to the games, to be held from September 19 to October 4.
Xi is visiting Seoul on Thursday and Friday for talks with President Park Geun-Hye before going on to Pyongyang.
China is North Korea’s sole major ally and key economic benefactor, and the fact that Xi is visiting Seoul first has been seen by some as a deliberate snub.
– Missile launches –
Despite its leverage an increasingly frustrated China has failed to persuade the North to curb its nuclear weapons programme and to stop raising regional tensions through missile and atomic tests.
The North’s latest olive branch followed a series of missile launches, including Sunday’s test-launch of two short-range Scud missiles.
Pyongyang also announced separately Monday it would put two detained American tourists on trial on charges including “perpetrating hostile acts”.
KCNA said suspicions about such acts by Matthew Todd Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle had been confirmed by evidence and their testimony.
Miller, 24, was arrested in April after he apparently ripped up his visa at immigration and demanded asylum in the communist state.
Fowle, who entered the North on April 29, was arrested after the 56-year-old reportedly left a Bible at a hotel.
The North said its leader Kim Jong-Un oversaw the latest missile tests.
A KCNA report was unclear about the type of missile, mentioning, “tactical rockets” and “precision-guided missiles”. The South’s military said Sunday’s test was of two Scud missiles with a range of about 500 kilometres (300 miles).
A few days earlier, a similar North Korean report had hailed the test of a “cutting-edge” guided missile as a “breakthrough” in its military capability.
The North carries out regular missile tests, sometimes for technical reasons but often to register its displeasure with events elsewhere.
According to KCNA, Kim argued that the missile tests “had not the slightest impact” on regional peace and security, and were in fact a guarantor of regional stability.
“Durable peace can be protected only when one is so strong that nobody dares provoke one and it can be guaranteed by one’s own strength,” he said.
With Xi and Park expected to discuss Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons, a state-run newspaper in the North lashed out at efforts to curb its nuclear ambitions as a “stupid fantasy.”
The ruling party’s Rodong Sinmun reiterated Monday that the atomic weapons were for self-defence against perceived threats from the US and the South.
“It’s about time for the enemies to wake up from the stupid fantasy called ‘denuclearisation of the North’,” it said.
“‘Denuclearisation of the North’ is a wild dream that can never be achieved forever.”
Tensions between North and South Korea have been running high for months.
Most recently, the North’s army threatened a “devastating strike” after the South held a live-fire drill near the maritime border.
In March the two sides fired hundreds of shells across the border into each other’s waters after the North dropped shells on the South’s side during a live-fire drill.