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What's behind North Korea's offer for unconditional talks?

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In Seoul, South Korea's vice unification minister Um Jong-sik found it “difficult” to take seriously North Korea’s call for “unconditional and early talks.”

South Korean officials have characterized the North’s proposal as fitting the pattern of a regime that over the years has pursued a fight-then-talk strategy.

Until recently, North Korea has refused to return to six-party talks, which were last held in Beijing in December 2008. It shifted its position after international condemnation for the shelling in November of a South Korean island in the Yellow Sea, in which two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed.

“North Korea hopes to fool the South Korean people by a tactical change,” says Baek Seong-joo, director of the Center for Security and Strategy at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

Mr. Baek is convinced North Korea’s eagerness to return to the table may appeal to US policymakers. “The US wants to resume six party talks,” he says. “They see a change in the diplomatic climate.”

If North Korea’s position has made an impression on Bosworth, however, he avoided showing it during stops in Seoul, Beijing and finally Japan.

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