Peace treaty idea for Korea pushed by Beijing

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Peace treaty idea for Korea pushed by Beijing

The idea of a peace treaty to end the 1950-53 Korean War is again being raised, as China renews efforts to end the armistice agreement along with denuclearizing North Korea.

Despite calling for stronger sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear weapons and missile programs, Washington has technically left the door open to possible discussions in the future on a pact to officially end the Korean War, which concluded with an armistice agreement, some analysts say. This indicates a shift from the United States’ previous policy, which excluded any dialogue with Pyongyang without denuclearization.

Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, during a visit to Seoul on Friday, said that if North Korea complies with United Nations Security Council resolutions and previous denuclearization pledges, this could “open the door” to progress on a broader range of issues, which could include discussions of a peace agreement.

The remarks came after China and the United States finally agreed last week to stronger sanctions on Pyongyang through a United Nations Security Council resolution in response to its fourth nuclear test and long-range missile launch.

Wu Dawei, China’s chief negotiator in the six-party talks, told reporters in Seoul on Sunday after talks with his South Korean counterpart that “the two countries agreed to support the UN Security Council’s adoption of a new resolution in response to the North’s nuclear test and satellite launch.”

He added that “through China and South Korea’s joint efforts, we will protect peace and security on the Korean Peninsula,” leaving open the possibility of dialogue with Pyongyang and peace pact discussions.

Aside from the pending UN sanctions resolution, which is awaiting adoption by the 15-member Security Council, there was interest in what sort of discussions will unfold between Wu and Seoul officials on sensitive issues like Beijing’s opposition to the deployment of a U.S.-led antiballistic missile defense system and its push to officially end the Korean War with a peace agreement.

Hwang Joon-kook, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, was asked Sunday by a reporter whether there were any discussions of a peace pact with Wu.

“We exchanged in-depth opinions on how the situation will evolve after the UN Security Council resolution is adopted,” he said.

On Sunday, Wu kicked off a five-day visit to Seoul, the first in five years, and held talks with Blue House officials on Monday, including Cho Tae-yong, deputy chief of the South Korean National Security Office, as well as Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a new proposal to move forward with the denuclearization of North Korea in tandem with transitioning from an armistice to a peace treaty earlier this month, amid international pressure to impose stronger sanctions on Pyongyang.

In talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Wang again emphasized this approach of pursuing denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula parallel to a peace treaty to replace the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War, adding that a sanctions resolution does not resolve the fundamental problem.

Kerry adhered to the stance that Pyongyang could ultimately have a peace agreement with Washington “if it will come to the table and negotiate the denuclearization.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on Feb. 21 that the United States had agreed secretly to peace treaty talks to formally end the Korean War with North Korea just days prior to its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6, but it walked away from those talks afterward.

The U.S. State Department corrected the report, saying that Pyongyang had reached out with a proposal for peace treaty talks first, which Washington rejected because Pyongyang refused to address denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula in tandem with such discussions.

In a JoongAng Ilbo column on Friday, Victor Cha, Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote, “What is significant about this sequence of events… is the implication of the State Department’s response - which essentially says that the United States is now ready to engage in peace treaty talks with [North Korea] if these talks would also include, as a component, denuclearization.”

He called Washington’s shift in position a “flipping [of] the script.”

“We are witnessing an incremental but significant shift from the template of 25 years of previous negotiations with the North,” Cha wrote.

The 1994 Agreed Framework between Pyongyang and Washington and other agreements from the six-party talks among China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas prioritized denuclearization as the key objective.

In October, Sung Kim, the special representative for North Korea policy, said during a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that Washington has “no interest in entering into any such discussions,” in response to a North Korean Foreign Ministry statement suggesting peace treaty discussions. However, any discussions of a peace pact will open up a Pandora’s box of sensitive issues on the Korean Peninsula.

“Discussions on the transition from the cease-fire agreement to a peace treaty fundamentally relates to the role of the U.S. Forces Korea’s role and their stationing here,” said defense analyst Cha Du-hyeon, a former senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. “North Korea will demand their withdrawal.”

South Korea was not a signatory to the July 27, 1953, armistice agreement, which involved the United Nations Command, China and North Korea. At the time, South Korean President Syngman Rhee opposed an armistice.

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, said, “The peace treaty negotiations that North Korea may want are related to the recognition of its regime. They are not about a multilateral system, but about normalization of ties between North Korea and the United States.”

This could also be a way of resuming some kind of dialogue without concentrating entirely on denuclearization, as the six-party talks do.

“After the Security Council sanctions land a punch, there is a means for North Korea to come out toward dialogue,” Cha Du-hyeon said. “North Korea is being landed both a punch and thrown a bait as well.”

BY CHAE BYUNG-GUN, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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