SEOUL: North Korea said on Sunday it was open to inter-Korean military talks to address the sinking of a South Korean warship but urged the United States to cease its involvement in the case.
The North, however, renewed a demand that the South first allow Pyongyang to carry out its own inspection to verify the facts of the case -- a condition Seoul has refused.
"Our intention was to dispatch our inspection group to South Korea from the very day the authorities linked the case with us and then open North-South high-level military talks to discuss the results of the inspection," an unnamed military official from the North said in a message disclosed by the official news agency KCNA.
"We still remain unchanged in our stand to open the above-said military talks and probe the truth about the case," the official said in a telephone message sent to the US side.
The statement came just a day after G8 leaders condemned the sinking of the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, in an official communique released after two days of talks in Canada.
Tensions are running high following the sinking of the South`s corvette near the maritime border in March with the loss of 46 lives.
President Barack Obama said in Toronto he stood "foursquare" behind South Korean leader Lee Myung-Bak and scolded North Korea for its "irresponsible behaviour".
South Korea, citing the findings of a multinational probe, says a North Korean torpedo sank the ship and is pressing for the United Nations to censure the communist regime.
But the North strongly denies any involvement and has threatened a military response to any UN actions.
The North`s military official said Sunday that it was "preposterous" and "absurd" for the US-led United Nations Command to address the Cheonan issue.
Seoul insists that the UNC, which has supervised the armistice along the border since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended, should handle the sinking, which it says is a violation of the truce pact.
Pyongyang has demanded that the US-led UNC be dismantled.
"The US forces side should no longer meddle in the issue of North-South relations under the name of `UN Forces Command,`" the North`s military official said.
The North`s Committee for Peaceful Reunification of Korea, in charge of handling cross-border relations, issued a statement Sunday denouncing the South`s recent military drills and plans to play a bigger role in US-led global efforts to stop the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction.
It branded such South Korean policies as "reckless and frantic moves of the puppet warmongers to start a war of aggression" against North Korea.
In Toronto on Saturday, Obama and Lee agreed to extend Washington`s wartime command of South Korean forces until 2015 in a demonstration of the strength of their alliance.
This means that in case of war on the Korean peninsula, the United States would assume operational command of South Korean forces. Washington had been due to transfer wartime command to Seoul in April 2012.
The delay in the transfer drew mixed responses from South Korean political parties.
The ruling Grand National Party welcomed it as an appropriate measure to earn more time to better cope with growing threats from North Korea, which conducted a second nuclear test last year.
But the main opposition Democratic Party criticised the government for abandoning a leadership role in defending the nation.
BDST: 1706 HRS, June 27, 2010