South Korea and the US rejected North Korea’s proposal to start peace talks to formally end the Korean War, with Seoul saying yesterday that can happen only after the North rejoins disarmament talks and reports progress in denuclearization.
The North said on Monday that its return to six-nation negotiations on its nuclear weapons program hinges on building better relations with the US by starting peace treaty talks. The North also called for the lifting of international sanctions against it.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said yesterday he believes peace treaty talks can take place only after the nuclear talks are resumed and the North takes steps toward disarming its atomic programs.
“I think it’s an issue that we can probably move forward with after the six-party talks are reopened and there is progress in North Korea’s denuclearization process,” Kim said.
He said South Korea would continue to try to find what the North’s true intention is behind its proposal.
But Kim said his military is ready to deter any possible North Korean aggression, saying the North “many times in the past offered peace gestures with one hand while on the other committed provocations.”
US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley also brushed off the North’s call, saying it must first rejoin the six-party negotiations.
Crowley, speaking on Monday in Washington, urged North Korea to return to the talks “and then we can begin to march down the list of issues that we have.”
North Korea, the US-led UN Command and China signed a ceasefire, but South Korea never did.
Despite the rejection, the North’s top diplomat in Beijing yesterday repeated his country’s position that it will only resume the nuclear talks after international sanctions on it are lifted.
“If sanctions are lifted, the six-party talks can be held at once,” North Korean Ambassador to China Choe Jin-su said in a group interview in Beijing, Japan’s Kyodo News agency reported.
He also said the conclusion of a peace treaty will help promote denuclearization “at a rapid tempo,” Kyodo reported.
“Here I would like to stress ‘at a rapid tempo,’” he said.
Achieving a peace treaty has been discussed at the six-nation disarmament talks and has been formally included in official statements, but has been based on the assumption that there would be progress in North Korea’s denuclearization.
Analysts, including, Yang Moo-jin of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies say that the North this time is trying to bring the issue of a peace treaty to the forefront to dilute the issue of nuclear disarmament.
Separately, South Korean activists tried unsuccessfully yesterday to send thousands of leaflets by launching balloons to the North to urge it to improve human rights conditions and let residents know about a US Christian missionary believed detained by the North.
The balloons, however, collapsed before crossing the border amid strong winds blowing from North Korea.
Robert Park, a 28-year-old Korean-American from Arizona, slipped into the North late last month to call international attention to the country’s alleged human rights abuses, South Korean activists said.
North Korea subsequently said it had detained an American for entering the country illegally but has not identified him.
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