Fri, Sep 14, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Talks address end of Korean civil war



South Korea and the US have already begun talks about a possible agreement with North Korea formally ending the 1950 to 1953 war on the peninsula, the US ambassador to Seoul said yesterday.

"I think that we have already begun consultations with the South Korean government in order to develop a common approach to these talks," ambassador Alexander Vershbow told a forum.

He said it would take some time to negotiate "all aspects of a peace agreement that is not just a brief declaration that says the war is over, but also will involve all kinds of provisions including military confidence-building measures."

North Korea must verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons before any peace pact, US President George W. Bush told his South Korean counterpart Roh Moo-Hyun in Sydney last week.

But Vershbow was quoted by Yonhap news agency as saying preliminary talks on a peace treaty could be held before the end of denuclearization.

He said that the two Koreas will be the principal participants in the process, with the US and China playing key supporting roles.

Roh has said that negotiations on formally ending the state of war with North Korea will be the focus of his summit next month in Pyongyang with leader Kim Jong-il.

The conflict, in which US-led UN forces fought for South Korea and China backed the North, ended with an armistice -- which South Korea did not sign -- and not a permanent peace treaty.

In a six-nation February accord the communist state agreed to declare and disable all its nuclear programs in return for aid, security guarantees and major diplomatic benefits.

These could include normalized relations between North Korea and the US and Japan, an end to US trade sanctions and a formal peace treaty.

In July the North, which tested an atomic weapon last October, took the first step by shutting down its only operating reactor at Yongbyon.

Meanwhile, US, Chinese and Russian experts were set to continue their tour of North Korea's main nuclear complex yesterday, after US officials said the communist country had cooperated with their requests.

The US officials were in North Korea to determine how to disable the Yongbyon facility so it cannot produce more bombs, part of an agreement reached between US and North Korean envoys earlier this month.

The US delegation was to return to the capital, Pyongyang, for discussions with North Korean officials, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.

The leader of the delegation, the State Department's top Korea expert Sung Kim, told officials in Washington they "saw everything they had asked to see," McCormack said.

Allowing the visit is the latest positive step by North Korea toward disarming.

Vershbow praised the North yesterday for its cooperation and urged the communist regime to continue to follow through with its disarmament pledge.

"We hope it means that the North Korean leadership is making the strategic decision to denuclearize and join the international community," Vershbow told the security forum in Seoul, referring to the US-led team's trip to Yongbyon.

"All eyes are on the North Korean leadership's next steps," he said.

Buoyed by progress in the disarmament process, Vershbow even suggested on Wednesday that Bush and Kim could hold a summit if North Korea totally disarms.

Having such a meeting would mark the completion of a turnaround from Bush's previous hard-line stance toward North Korea.

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