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Mar 21, 7:29 AM EDT

NKorea says its diplomatic moves are not a sign of weakness

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TOKYO (AP) -- North Korea's recent moves to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula are evidence of its confidence and national strength, not a sign of weakness, according to its state-run media.

The North's defense of its diplomatic outreach to Seoul and Washington is surprising because its media have yet to report virtually any of the activity. Only U.S. and South Korean officials have said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un plans to meet with President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in by May.

The commentary by the North's official Korean Central News Agency on Tuesday said the country's "proactive measure and peace-loving proposal" have caused a "dramatic atmosphere for reconciliation" to be "created in relations between the North and the South of Korea, and that there has been a sign of change also in the DPRK-U.S. relations."

DPRK is short for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The commentary offered no other details, saying only that the North has started a "dialogue peace offensive." But it strongly criticized current and former officials and experts in the U.S. and Japan, along with conservatives in South Korea, for suggesting Pyongyang has been pushed into a corner by increasingly tough sanctions.

"The great change in the North-South relations is not an accidental one but a noble fruition made thanks to the DPRK's proactive measure, warm compatriotism and will for defending peace," the commentary said. "Such an event as today could be possible as the DPRK's dignity has remarkably risen and it has strong might."

Kim and Moon have made major steps to reduce tensions that reached dangerously high levels last year.

In an unprecedented gambit, Kim sent his younger sister to attend the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea last month and invited Moon to Pyongyang for what would be only the third North-South summit, following meetings in 2000 and 2007.

The South Korean government was also key in brokering the plan for Kim and Trump to meet. Washington and Pyongyang have no diplomatic relations and no U.S. president has ever sat down with a North Korean leader.

Moon said Wednesday that the North Korean nuclear crisis must be resolved completely through the two upcoming summits. He said a trilateral meeting among Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington could be possible, depending on the results of the summits.

Later Wednesday, Moon's presidential office proposed talks with North Korea next week to determine the exact timing and agendas for the inter-Korean summit.

Tuesday's KCNA commentary did not mention the North's nuclear weapons program, which Pyongyang often cites as the main source of its military strength. South Korean officials who met with Kim in Pyongyang to discuss the upcoming summits said he indicated he is willing to discuss denuclearization, but the lack of confirmation from Pyongyang has led to concern over what Kim may actually be willing to negotiate.

The commentary specifically denied claims that North Korea made an about-face with no concessions from Washington because Trump's "maximum pressure" strategy had pushed it to the point beyond which it can no longer sustain itself.

It also lashed out at calls for sustained pressure on the North and skepticism that the activity is a ruse intended to merely gain time or drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington.

"The economy of the DPRK is rising," the commentary said, adding that advances in science and technology around the country are "promising the bright future for the improvement of the people's living standard."

"The dialogue peace offensive of the DPRK is an expression of self-confidence as it has acquired everything it desires," it said.

The commentary called on all parties involved to act with "prudence, self-control and patience."


Talmadge is the AP's Pyongyang bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @erictalmadge

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