North Korea Calls for Early Talks on Peace Treaty
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Multilateral talks on the North Korean nuclear issue are entering a new phase as Pyongyang formally proposed that discussions of a peace treaty be held possibly within the six-party framework or at an independent meeting of "armistice signatories," which are North Korea, China and the United States.
In a statement, the North's foreign ministry expressed hope for a quick resolution to the nuclear problem by saying that a peace treaty could hasten progress in its denuclearization. It claimed that international sanctions on the socialist country must be lifted before it returns to the six-party talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear weapons programs. Pyongyang boycotted the six-nation talks when the United Nations imposed sanctions on the North following its rocket launch in April.
In the statement carried by the official (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the North called for a peace treaty to end the ongoing state of war, which it said was "a root cause of the hostile relations" between North Korea and the U.S. The Koreas technically remain at war because only a cease-fire agreement was agreed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
The North has made frequent demands for a peace treaty in the past and has said an exclusive peace deal between Washington and Pyongyang would be a precondition for the resumption of the stalled six-party talks. But Pyongyang did not specify whether South Korea should be included in the discussions.
North Korea made the peace treaty proposal "on the occasion of the 60th year since the Korean War broke out in 1950." The country has so far refused to acknowledge Seoul as a partner in the proposed peace treaty talks.
"The conclusion of the peace treaty will help terminate the hostile relations between the DPRK (North Korea) and the U.S. and positively promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula at a rapid tempo," the North said.
The latest proposal from the North was the second major statement from Pyongyang in less than two weeks. Pyongyang said in a New Year's editorial carried by official media that it is ready to establish a peace agreement and achieve denuclearization through dialogue and negotiations.
North Korea, which has signaled its willingness to return to six-nation talks but without giving a date, said sanctions keep it from returning to the talks. "The removal of the barrier of such discrimination and distrust as sanctions may soon help lead to the opening of the six-party talks" that include the U.S., the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia, it said. "Today the talks remain blocked by the barrier of distrust called sanctions against the DPRK."
Pyongyang has been boycotting the multilateral denuclearization dialogue since April after the U.N. Security Council denounced its long-range rocket launch. In May, the North conducted its second nuclear test, leading to toughened U.N. sanctions.
Momentum for another round of the multilateral talks began to build after Washington's special envoy Stephen Bosworth paid a rare visit to Pyongyang in December. The two sides had said they reached an understanding on the need for the six-way dialogue to restart.
The North's statement added that peace regime talks could be held separately, as mentioned in the Sept. 19 joint statement, which was reached after a round of the six-party discussions in 2005. The document reads, "The directly related parties will negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum." The six-party nuclear deal signed in 2005 calls for the North's nuclear dismantlement in return for massive economic aid, diplomatic recognition and establishment of a peace agreement in lieu of the armistice.
North Korea also said peace talks could be held within the framework of the six-party talks. In February 2007, the six parties established five working groups to provide forums to discuss other pertinent issues, including one named the Working Group on the Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism.
The U.S. has insisted that the North's denuclearization, or at least some progress in that regard, would be necessary before peace talks could get under way. Following his meetings with North Korean officials in December, Stephen Bosworth said other parties would be prepared to discuss the negotiations for the peace treaty "once we... have begun to gain significant traction on the issue of denuclearization."
The North even said lifting of sanctions may soon lead to the opening of the six-party talks, but officials in Seoul dismissed the comment as an attempt by Pyongyang to shake free from the international arms and financial embargoes.
Washington on Jan. 11 responded to Pyongyang's overture for peace treaty talks with renewed urging for the communist regime to return to the six-party talks. "The North Koreans are well aware of what they need to do, to come back to six-party talks, in dealing with this issue," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. "And that is, give up the idea of a nuclear state on the peninsula, just as it agreed to do several years ago."
Philip Crowley, assistant secretary of state for public affairs, also called on the North to come back to the six-party talks before discussing a peace treaty or any other issues. "If it comes back to the six-party process, if it makes affirmative steps toward denuclearization, then a wide range of other opportunities open up," Crowley said. He did not preclude the possibility of another high-level, face-to-face contact with North Korea to facilitate reopening the talks.
South Korea's foreign ministry said resuming the stalemated six-nation talks must precede any discussion on signing a peace treaty to replace the Armistice Agreement. "We have already stated that talks for a peace regime can start under a forum separate from the six-nation talks according to the Sept. 19 joint communique, if the six-nation talks restart and there is progress on North Korea's denuclearization progress," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Jan. 12.
The statement also called for Pyongyang to return to the six-party discussions as soon as possible and take actions aimed at "irreversible" denuclearization. It said Seoul hopes for the six-nation talks to reach an agreement based on the ideas laid out in President Lee Myung-bak's proposal for a "grand bargain" plan offering extensive incentives to the North in return for terminating its nuclear weapons.
After the peace treaty proposal, North Korea intensified its propaganda offensive through a series of interviews at its diplomatic missions abroad. On Jan. 12, North Korea's ambassador to China, Choe Jin-su, said in a rare news briefing in Beijing that there could be immediate progress if Pyongyang's latest demands were met. Choe said the six-party negotiations could resume only with the lifting of sanctions on North Korea and acceptance of its latest proposal for peace treaty talks.
"Only concluding a peace treaty can eradicate the hostile relations between (North Korea) and the United States, and rapidly and actively advance the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Choe told a small group of reporters, according to Japan's Kyodo News agency.
In New York on Jan. 12, North Korea's envoy to the United Nations said his nation is willing to conduct parallel talks on its nuclear program and on formally ending the Korean War, but only if all sanctions against it are lifted.
Summoning a few reporters to North Korea's U.N. mission, Ambassador Sin Son-ho described U.S. and international sanctions as "an expression of distrust" that must be put aside before the North will rejoin stalled six-party talks to rein in its nuclear program and rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons.
He repeated his country's position that it will only resume the nuclear talks and start peace negotiations to formally end the Korean War after international sanctions on it are lifted.
Asked about the timing of resuming the six-party talks and peace negotiations with the U.S., Sin said, "We can work in parallel. A return to the talks soon is possible ... if the sanctions are removed," Sin said during a question-and-answer session. "Sanctions themselves are an expression of distrust," the ambassador said. "A cease-fire agreement should have been signed long ago," he said. "We will try to push the U.S."
Meanwhile, North Korea's ambassador to Russia said that the venue of the peace talks, whether they are held within the six-party framework or in a separate meeting, depends on the United States.
Ambassador Kim Yong-jae said in a press interview in Moscow that the North has requested the U.S. to determine the format of the peace talks. The North Korean ambassador's remarks suggested that the issue had been discussed during Bosworth's trip to Pyongyang last December. Bosworth said after his trip the two sides reached a "common understanding" on peace talks by holding a separate four-party dialogue involving the two Koreas, the U.S. and China when the six-party talks reconvene.