Seoul: North Korea has told the United States that it's willing to impose a temporary moratorium on its nuclear tests if Washington scraps planned military drills with South Korea this year, the North's official news agency said today.
The US has previously refused to cancel military drills with South Korea, even at times of high tensions, and has said the North must first demonstrate how sincere it is about nuclear disarmament before serious talks can resume.
The North's reported proposal comes at a time of tensions between North Korea and the US over a Sony movie depicting an assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The US blames the North for crippling hacking attacks on Sony Entertainment and subsequently imposed new sanctions on the country, inviting an angry response from Pyongyang, which has denied responsibility for the cyberattacks.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency said the government proposed to the US what it calls a "crucial step" to ease animosities and remove the danger of war, prompted by desires to pave the way for a reunification with South Korea this year, which marks the 70th anniversary of the rivals' division.
The message "proposed the US to contribute to easing tension on the Korean Peninsula by temporarily suspending joint military exercises in South Korea and its vicinity this year, and said that in this case (North Korea) is ready to take such responsive step as temporarily suspending the nuclear test over which the US is concerned," KCNA's report said.
"Now is the time for the US to make a bold decision for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia," it said.
The message was conveyed to the US yesterday through an unspecified relevant channel, KCNA said.
Pyongyang has called the annual US-South Korean military drills a rehearsal for an invasion, though the allies have repeatedly said that the war games are defencive in nature, and that they have no intentions of attacking the North.
Analysts say the US-South Korea drills have hurt the North's economy because Pyongyang has spent precious resources to stage its own drills in response.
North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013. A fourth test would mark another defiant response to US-led international pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program.
Western experts believe North Korea has a handful of rudimentary bombs, though it is not believed to be capable yet of producing warheads small enough to mount on a long-range missile that could threaten the US.
Another nuclear test could put the North a step closer to that goal.
The Korean Peninsula remains divided along the world's most heavily armed border because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.