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(2nd LD) N. Korea calls for early talks on peace treaty

All Headlines 17:18 January 11, 2010

(ATTN: ADDS background; CORRECTS errors in 3rd, 11th paras)

SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Monday proposed holding talks on replacing the Korean War armistice with a peace treaty, saying the agenda can be discussed at an independent meeting of "armistice signatories" or even in the six-party nuclear talks.

But the South Korean foreign ministry reacted skeptically, wary of the possibility that the North may be trying to use the peace treaty issue to undermine multilateral negotiations on ending Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

North Korea made the proposal in a Foreign Ministry statement "on the occasion of 60th year since the Korean War broke out in 1950," adding that sanctions on it must be lifted before it returns to the six-nation talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear weapons programs.

South Korea is not an armistice signatory, but North Korea reportedly proposed discussing a Korean Peninsula peace treaty with South Korea, China and the U.S. during U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth's visit to Pyongyang in early December.

North Korea remains technically at war with the U.S. and South Korea after the 1950-53 Korean war ended in a truce. China, which fought on the North Korean side, is also signatory to the truce.

"The conclusion of the peace treaty will help terminate the hostile relations between the DPRK and the U.S. and positively promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula at a rapid tempo," the North said, less than two weeks after it called for an end to hostile relations with the United States in a New Year's joint editorial. DPRK is the acronym of the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"If confidence is to be built between the DPRK and the U.S., it is essential to conclude a peace treaty for terminating the state of war, a root cause of the hostile relations, to begin with," it said.

North Korea, which has signaled its willingness to return to six-nation talks on ending its nuclear arms programs 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."

The Foreign Ministry statement comes after the North said in its Jan. 1 joint newspaper editorial that it remains committed to a Korean Peninsula cleared of nuclear arms through negotiations. In early December, U.S. special envoy Bosworth flew to Pyongyang carrying a letter from President Barack Obama and calling on the North to return to the six-nation talks.

An official at the foreign ministry here did not welcome the North's statement, saying "we cannot say it is all good news because what they proposed is somewhat different from our position on such talks."

Seoul's foreign minister Yu Myung-hwan noted in a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency that Pyongyang may try to bring the issue into the six-party dialogue in an attempt to delay the negotiations on ending its nuclear ambitions.

"We have to consider the proposal in greater depth before deciding on how to perceive it, but the format for talks on a peace treaty that was agreed to by the six parties of the nuclear negotiations was for a forum separate from the six-party talks," the ministry official said, asking not to be identified.

The official noted that North Korea may have mentioned holding the peace talks in a separate forum so as to avoid criticism from other participants of the six-party talks for trying to breach previous agreements, if not to manipulate the nuclear negotiations themselves.

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