By Alex Jensen
SEOUL (AA) - South Korea vowed Monday to keep prioritizing "the North's steps toward denuclearization" if Pyongyang wants to hold talks, after North Korea's latest dialogue offer two days ago.
The South's reclusive neighbor has been pushing for better inter-Korean ties in line with public remarks by dictator Kim Jong-un at a landmark congress this month -- representing a sharp shift from the North's nuclear and missile development that drew strengthened United Nations sanctions in March.
While Pyongyang has refrained from major provocations in recent weeks, the Kim regime has neither said nor done anything to suggest a willingness to abandon its nuclear weapon ambitions, which North Korea views as a counterbalance to American influence in the region -- multilateral North Korean denuclearization talks involving the United States have been stalled for years.
Following the North's suggestion over the weekend of working-level talks with South Korea in the near future, Seoul's defense ministry revealed Monday that it had already responded.
"We expressed regret that North Korea proposed to hold military talks without any mention of its nuclear problem," a ministry spokesperson said at a media briefing.
Seoul's caution, according to the spokesperson, is rooted in the concern that dialogue without denuclearization steps "could weaken the international community's collaboration in slapping tougher sanctions on the North."
The peninsula has gone through a repeated cycle of improving and cooling ties as Seoul and Pyongyang continue to operate under the uneasy ceasefire that brought the 1950-53 Korean War to a close.
Many analysts view China's commitment to sanctions as being essential if the South's stance is to be effective this time -- Beijing is seen as North Korea's most important ally and economic partner.