North Korea, apparently spooked by the earthquake in Japan, has proposed conducting research with rival South Korea on volcanic activity at their highest mountain, considered sacred by the North.
North Korea's earthquake bureau sent a letter to South Korea's weather agency on Thursday proposing joint quake and volcano research "in the common interests of the nation" at Mount Paektu, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.
South Korea's Unification Ministry confirmed the proposal Friday and said Seoul was considering the idea.
"The South Korean government recognizes the need for inter-Korea cooperation regarding natural disasters such as volcanic activities and earthquakes," spokesman Chun Hae-sung said at a briefing in Seoul. "We will examine the North's proposal from this perspective."
Iconic Mount Paektu, which borders China, last erupted in 1903 but remains active, with the region regularly registering quake activity, experts say.
Paektu, spelled Baekdu by the South Koreans, is considered one of the peninsula's most beautiful sites. North Korean lore calls it the birthplace of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, and official portraits of the leader and his father, late President Kim Il Sung, often show them standing in front of Paektu.
Pyongyang's proposal comes as relations between the two Koreas remain strained a year after the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship and an artillery attack on a front-line South Korean island that killed four people in November.
Seoul blames Pyongyang for the sinking of the Cheonan, which killed 46 South Korean sailors in the worst military attack on the South since the Korean War. North Korea denies involvement. Pyongyang acknowledges firing the artillery that struck Yeonpyeong Island four months ago, but called it a response to South Korean military drills in disputed waters claimed by both Koreas.
The Korean peninsula remains in a technical state of war because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 in a truce, not a peace treaty. The U.S. keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea to protect the ally against aggression.
State media in North Korea have been providing consistent coverage of the quake and tsunami off Japan's east coast. Japan has a sizable ethnic Korean population, with many pledging allegiance to Pyongyang.
"The great quake that hit Japan, in particular, underscores the urgency to conduct in a foresighted and successful manner the researches into earthquake and volcanic activities on the Korean Peninsula as it is geographically located close to that country," the letter from North Korean officials said, according to KCNA.