N. Korea's New Year's message calls for 'lasting peace' on its peninsula
SEOUL -- North Korea said it was committed to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula in a New Year's message Friday, brightening the prospect that Pyongyang might rejoin the stalled international talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs.
In a statement, the Pyongyang government said it wants "a lasting peace system on the Korean Peninsula."
North Korea traditionally marks New Year's Day with a joint editorial by the country's three major newspapers representing its communist party, military and youth militia force. The editorial was carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
The Jan. 1 messages are examined annually for clues to the regime's policies for the coming year. This year, the government said it will strive to develop good relations and friendship with other countries, while calling for an end to hostile relations with the United States.
The North has long called for Washington to end hostility toward the regime and said it developed nuclear weapons to deter a U.S. attack. Washington has repeatedly said it has no intention of invading the communist country.
The North's latest commitment came as Washington is trying to coax Pyongyang to return to the international disarmament talks.
The two countries agreed on the need to resume the negotiations during a trip to Pyongyang by President Obama's special envoy in early December, but North Korea did not make a firm commitment on when it would rejoin the talks.
North Korea quit the disarmament talks last year in anger over international criticism of its long-range rocket launch, which was denounced as a test of its missile technology. The regime then conducted a nuclear test and test-fired a series of ballistic missiles.
In 2007, North Korea agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for aid and other concessions from South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, but the process has stalled over how to verify its accounting of its past atomic activities.
The statement released Friday appealed to North Korean soldiers to unite around leader Kim Jong Il and remain vigilant to thwart any surprise attacks.
It urged the country's 1.1 million-strong military, the backbone of Kim's totalitarian rule, to "defend with our very lives the leadership of revolution headed" by Kim.
The lengthy message also said that Pyongyang remains committed to improving its relations with South Korea, urging the South to refrain from taking actions that would aggravate the confrontation and tension.
"Unshakable is our stand that we will improve the North-South relations and open the way for national reunification," the message said.
The two Koreas are still technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
-- Associated Press