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Koreas spar over proposal for talks

Nuclear program key forum subject

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei — North Korea’s top diplomat said Tuesday that the United States must accept its offer for dialogue without preconditions if it wants to ease tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula. He drew a quick rebuttal from his South Korean counterpart, who said the international community has made clear that Pyongyang must give up its nuclear ambitions if it wants better relations.

The Koreas were among 27 nations at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in Brunei, where the North’s nuclear weapons program was a key topic, along with other hot-button regional issues such as South China Sea territorial disputes. Asia’s largest security forum includes the United States, North Korea, and the four other countries involved in long-stalled nuclear talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear ambitions in return for aid.

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Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the United States, South Korea, Japan, and China — North Korea’s chief ally — were ‘‘absolutely united’’ in their insistence on a denuclearized North Korea. Washington says Pyongyang must move in that direction before it will agree to talks, but North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun said during the conference Tuesday that it is America that must act.

‘‘The US must positively respond to our sincere and courageous decision [to offer talks] without preconditions if it is truly interested in ending the vicious circle of intensifying tension on the Korean Peninsula and safeguarding peace and stability,’’ Pak said, according to North Korean delegation official Choe Myong Nam.

Pak said that ‘‘a touch-and-go situation in which a war can break out anytime is fostered’’ on the Korean Peninsula and that US hostility against the North was primarily responsible for that, Choe said.

Shortly after Choe spoke, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told reporters that most diplomats at the forum expressed a ‘‘very strong message’’ to the North Korean delegation that Pyongyang must scrap its nuclear program and refrain from launching another provocation.

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