North Korea's top diplomat said the US must accept its offer for dialogue without preconditions if it wants to ease tensions on the 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 US, North Korea and the four other countries involved in long-stalled nuclear talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions in return for aid.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the US, South Korea, Japan and China North Korea's chief ally were "absolutely united" in their insistence on a denuclearised 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 yesterday 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 told reporters.
Pak said the US must sign a peace treaty with North Korea to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War and lift sanctions against the country, saying the North Korean nuclear standoff won't be resolved unless the US changes its tone, according to Choe.
The war ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. 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 another provocation.
"So they must have listened to this message very, very seriously," he said.