- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 12, 2010

SEOUL | North Korea on Monday proposed signing a peace treaty this year to formally end the Korean War, a suggestion that Washington quickly dismissed.

In a move seen as an attempt to bolster its negotiating position, the isolated communist regime said a return to negotiations on its nuclear weapons program depends on better relations with Washington and the lifting of sanctions.

However, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Monday that peace treaty talks would only be discussed once North Korea comes back to six-nation nuclear talks and takes steps on abandoning its nuclear programs.

As for dropping sanctions, Mr. Crowley said, “We’re not going to pay North Korea to come back to the six-party process.”

He urged North Korea to “say yes” to returning to the talks “and then we can begin to march down the list of issues that we have.”

North Korea has long demanded a peace treaty, but the prospects seem dim with South Korea suspicious that its rival is using the issue as a distraction and a U.S. official saying Monday that the authoritarian North must improve its human rights record before any normalization of ties.

“The situation is appalling,” Robert King, President Obama’s special envoy for human rights in North Korea, said in Seoul on Monday.

Washington and Pyongyang have never had diplomatic relations because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, thus leaving the peninsula technically at war. North Korea, the U.S.-led United Nations Command and China signed a cease-fire, but South Korea never did.

North Korea, which claims it was forced to develop atomic bombs to cope with U.S. threats, quit six-nation nuclear talks last year in anger over international condemnation of a long-range rocket launch.

The country later conducted its second nuclear test, test-launched a series of ballistic missiles and restarted its plutonium-producing facility, inviting widespread condemnation and tighter U.N. sanctions.

After months of tension, however, the North said last month it understood the need to resume the talks with the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia and Japan following bilateral talks with the U.S. in Pyongyang.

Now, the North is saying the resumption of the six-nation nuclear talks depends on building confidence between Pyongyang and Washington by quickly starting talks on a peace treaty and lifting the sanctions.

“If confidence is to be built between [North Korea] 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,” the country’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The United States has resisted signing a treaty while the North possesses nuclear weapons. Washington, however, has said, that the subject can be discussed within the framework of the six-party nuclear talks, which have not been held for more than a year.

Stephen Bosworth, Mr. Obama’s special envoy on North Korea, said last month after the talks in Pyongyang that he conveyed a message from Mr. Obama calling for the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and underlined Washington’s willingness to help bring the isolated country back into the international fold. He also said discussion of a peace treaty could take place within the six-party talks framework.

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