PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea on Thursday demanded the lifting of U.N. sanctions and the end of U.S.-South Korea military drills as conditions for resuming talks meant to defuse tension on the Korean Peninsula.
The statement from the Policy Department of the National Defense Commission, the country's top governing body, came four days after Pyongyang rejected Seoul's latest dialogue offer as insincere. The U.S. says it is prepared to talk to the North but Pyongyang must first bring down tensions and honor previous disarmament agreements.
"Dialogue can never go with war actions," said the North Korean statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The statement said the U.S. must also withdraw all nuclear weapons assets from South Korea and the region before the talks can resume. It said South Korea must stop all anti-North Korea talks, such as its recent announcement blaming Pyongyang for a cyberattack that shut down tens of thousands of computers and servers at South Korean broadcasters and banks last month. North Korea has denied responsibility for the cyberattack.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry dismissed the North's demand as illogical. "We again strongly urge North Korea to stop this kind of insistence that we cannot totally understand and go down the path of a wise choice," spokesman Cho Tai-young told reporters.
But in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry put a more positive spin on Pyongyang's response.
"It's the first word of negotiation or thought of that we have heard from them since all of this has begun," he told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. "I'm prepared to look at that as at least a beginning, not acceptable obviously, and we have to go further."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One that the U.S. remains open to "authentic and credible negotiations." But he said the U.S. has not seen any commitment from North Koreans that they are willing to end their nuclear program.
In recent weeks, North Korea has ratcheted up tension on the divided peninsula, threatening to attack the U.S. and South Korea over the military drills and sanctions imposed for its February nuclear test. Pyongyang calls the annual drills a rehearsal for invasion. South Korean officials have also said the North is poised to test-fire a medium-range missile capable of reaching the American territory of Guam.
The ongoing annual drills, called Foal Eagle, are to finish at the end of April. Seoul and Washington officials say they are defensive in nature, and insist they have no intention of invading the North.
The U.S. has about 28,500 troops in South Korea to help deter potential aggression from North Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War. That war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, and Matthew Pennington and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.
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In this undated image made from KRT video, North Korea's new young leader Kim Jong Un rides a horse at an undisclosed place in North Korea, aired Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/KRT via APTN)
Kim Jong Un
In this undated image made from KRT video, North Korea's new young leader Kim Jong Un appears from a military vehicle at an undisclosed place in North Korea, aired Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012. Kim Jong Un, who was named "supreme leader" of North Korea's people, ruling Workers' Party and military following the death last month of his father, Kim Jong Il, was shown observing firing exercises and posing for photographs with soldiers in footage that was shot before his father's death and aired as a documentary Sunday. (AP Photo/KRT via APTN)
In this Oct. 10, 2010 file photo Kim Jong Un, right, along with his father and North Korea leader Kim Jong Il, left, attends a massive military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/Kyodo News, File)
North Korea's next leader, Kim Jong Un, front center, salutes beside the hearse carrying the body of his late father and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during the funeral procession in Pyongyang, North Korea Wednesday Dec. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks to tens of thousands before a mass military parade in Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square to celebrate 100 years since the birth of the late North Korean founder Kim Il Sung on Sunday, April 15, 2012. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives for the unveiling ceremony for statues of late leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung on Mansudae in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, April 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
In this Wednesday, July 25, 2012 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed in Tokyo by the Korea News Service Thursday, July 26, 2012, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, accompanied by his wife Ri Sol Ju, right, waves to the crowd as they inspect the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground in Pyongyang. (AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service)
In this undated file photo released by the Korean Central News Agency and distributed in Tokyo by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, third from right, looks at food items as he inspects a military unit at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS, File)
This picture taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 12, 2012 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (lower L) celebrating with staffs from the satellite control center during the launch of the Unha-3 rocket, carrying the satellite Kwangmyongsong-3, at the general satellite control and command center in Pyongyang. (KNS/AFP/Getty Images)
In this Feb. 28, 2013 file photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and former NBA star Dennis Rodman watch North Korean and U.S. players in an exhibition basketball game at an arena in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/VICE Media, Jason Mojica, File)
In this March 7, 2013 file photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un uses a pair of binoculars to look at the South's territory from an observation post at the military unit on Jangjae islet, located in the southernmost part of the southwestern sector of North Korea's border with South Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS, File)
In this March 11, 2013 file photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rides on a boat, heading for the Wolnae Islet Defense Detachment, North Korea, near the western sea border with South Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS, File)