SEOUL, South Korea — Government officials and security analysts in the region say North Korea is scaling back its campaign of threats and showing signs it wants to ease tensions with South Korea and the United States.
That assessment, gaining credence among policymakers in recent days, doesn't mean North Korea will soon agree to talks or that the long-term threat posed by its weapons program has been reduced. But officials say they are encouraged by a shift during the past week in Pyongyang's rhetoric, which, though still venomous, now includes hints about reconciliation.
"The tensions should gradually decrease from here, but we cannot lose ourselves" to complacency, the Washington Post reported that a South Korean Defense Ministry official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to convey government thinking. "We do still have to be prepared for any provocations."
Dialogue will be difficult, because Washington and Pyongyang are fundamentally at odds over what must happen first. On Thursday, the North issued a statement laying out its conditions for talks, including the lifting of U.N. sanctions and the removal of all U.S. nuclear assets from the region. The United States, which has already rejected such steps, instead wants Pyongyang to live up to pre-existing disarmament agreements.
Secretary of State John Kerry said North Korea's preconditions are "not acceptable," but he appeared to welcome the glimmer of interest in talks from Pyongyang.
"I'm prepared to look at that as, you know, at least a beginning gambit," he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Analysts say it's noteworthy that Pyongyang is even raising the possibility of talks, given that in recent weeks it has pledged nuclear annihilation of the United States, South Korea, Japan and Guam.
Secret report said mislabeled: The top U.S. intelligence official disclosed Thursday that a congressman inadvertently revealed classified information when he read aloud a passage from a Defense Intelligence Agency report that said North Korea had the know-how to put a nuclear warhead on a missile.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the paragraph Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., read at a House hearing last week was "miscategorized as unclassified."