Friday, July 29, 2011

North Korea says peace treaty a first step for denuclearization

Credit: Reuters/Kim Jae-hwan/Pool

(Reuters) - North Korea Wednesday renewed calls for a peace treaty with the United States to officially end the Korean War, nearly 60 years after fighting ended, arguing it could be the first step toward the denuclearization of the peninsula.

Pyongyang issued its latest pleas for a treaty amid an easing of tensions with rival South Korea and during a visit by a top North Korean diplomat to the United States to discuss the resumption of stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

"Concluding a peace agreement may be the first step for settling the Korean issue, including denuclearization," KCNA state news agency said in a commentary on the anniversary of the ceasefire in the 1950-53 war.

The two Koreas are still technically at war because fighting stopped with only a truce, not a treaty.

The North has for years tried to persuade the United States to agree to a peace treaty, hoping to force the withdrawal of some 30,000 American troops from the South. The North walked out of aid-for-denuclearization talks in 2009 after the United Nations imposed a new round of sanctions for nuclear and missile tests. Last year, it said it wanted to rejoin the forum.

Washington and Seoul point to the North's revelations of a uranium enrichment program last year as a sign it is not serious about giving up its plans to develop atomic weapons. The North has twice tested plutonium-based nuclear devices.

The North's Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan arrived in New York Wednesday where is he is expected to meet Washington's envoy for Korean peninsula affairs, Stephen Bosworth.

Hopes are building that the six-party talks, which also involve China, Russia and Japan, will restart soon after the nuclear envoys and foreign ministers of the two Koreas met last week.

Relations between the two Koreas crashed to their lowest level in nearly two decades last year after two attacks killed 50 South Koreans.

(Reporting by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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