January 12, 2010 09:40
North Korea on Monday called for peace talks with countries involved in the armistice. Having declared six-party denuclearization talks dead and buried following UN sanctions after a missile test in April, it is now proposing the peace talks as a precondition to its return to the stalled dialogue.
"If confidence is to be built between [North] Korea and the U.S., it is essential first to conclude a peace treaty terminating the state of war, a root cause of the hostile relations," the regime's Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying by the official [North] Korean Central News Agency.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Korean War that started in 1950. North Korea did not name the countries that signed the armistice, but the North has previously sought to exclude South Korea from any peace talks saying Seoul was not directly involved.
The North Korean Foreign Ministry said it had been "commissioned" to propose peace talks, suggesting that the order came from the leader Kim Jong-il. It said peace talks should be held either as part of the six-country talks or as a separate negotiation as stipulated in a statement of principles signed on Sept. 19, 2005.
"After announcing it would withdraw from the six-party talks, the North cannot return to them directly," said Nam Joo-hong, a North Korea expert at Kyonggi University. "By proposing peace talks, North Korea is probably saying it wants to return to them."
Kim met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in September and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo in October and in a bid to shift the atmosphere in his favor told them he was willing to return to the multilateral negotiations. Kim is believed to be planning a secret visit to China, and some speculate that the latest proposal comes to gain favorable attention from his impoverished nation's sole ally ahead of the trip.
But a high-ranking South Korean government official said, "Since peace talks are more complex and thorny to deal with than the nuclear standoff, the offer does not seem beneficial to the resumption of the six-party talks."
Moreover, North Korea is unrelenting in its demand that a peace treaty must be signed before it can scrap its nuclear weapons, signaling a long and tough road ahead for negotiations. The North's Foreign Ministry said, "If the U.S. sincerely wants peace, security and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, it should not waste time seeking its own interests but take a bold approach to deal with fundamental problems."
South Korean government officials warn that Pyongyang may be trying to dilute the objective of the six-party talks. Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan recently said North Korea's proposal to discuss a peace treaty "can only be interpreted as a strategy not to get rid of its nuclear weapons program or to delay the process."
The North also demanded that unfavorable treatment and distrust in the form of sanctions need to be ended before the six-party talks resume. This is the first time it linked international sanctions with the six-party talks since it announced last year that it would never return to the nuclear dialogue.
The U.S. government is unlikely to permit its arm to be twisted as it is wary of repeating the mistakes of past U.S. governments, which ended sanctions against North Korea each time the country returned to the six-party talks.
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