North says that peace treaty possible at 6-party negotiations

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North says that peace treaty possible at 6-party negotiations

North Korea yesterday proposed talks on reaching a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953 and added the issue could also be discussed at the six-party talks.

In a statement carried on the state-run Korean Central News Agency yesterday, the North called for the peace treaty to end the state of war, which it said was “a root cause of the hostile relations” between North Korea and the United States. The Koreas technically remain at war because only a cease-fire agreement was agreed to.

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. South Korea, one of the parties in the armistice, has been opposed to any peace regime that excludes Seoul.

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.”

North Korea also said yesterday 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 pertaining issues, but didn’t have one specifically for the peace regime. One of the bodies was, however, named the Working Group on the Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism.

The United States 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, the special U.S. envoy on North Korea, 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 here dismissed the comment as an attempt by Pyongyang to shake free from the international arms and financial embargoes.

“Chances are very low that sanctions will be eased on the North,” said a South Korean Foreign Ministry official privy to nuclear affairs. “We have long maintained our stance [that the North won’t be rewarded for returning to the six-party table].”

By Yoo Jee-ho []

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