North Korea demanded Wednesday that the United States sign a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War, as a senior North Korean diplomat visited New York to negotiate ways to restart six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.
In an editorial marking the 58th anniversary of an armistice that ended the 1950-53 war, the North's official Korean Central News Agency insisted a peace treaty could go a long way toward resolving a deadlock over Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
North Korea has long called for a peace treaty with the United States. The armistice left the Korean peninsula in a technical state of war. Its latest push comes as North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan makes a fresh attempt to reopen six-nation talks that were last held in December 2008.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton invited Kim to New York to meet with U.S. officials later this week only after nuclear envoys from the rival Koreas held surprise talks last week.
Seoul blames North Korea for two attacks that killed 50 South Koreans last year and has demanded that Pyongyang show remorse. The United States has insisted that its ally Seoul must be satisfied that inter-Korean ties are improving before it will pursue more nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang.
Kim told reporters after landing Tuesday in New York that he was "optimistic of the prospects for the six-way talks and the North Korea-U.S. relationship," according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency. "I believe North Korea-U.S. relations will improve, as now is the time for countries to reconcile."
Despite Kim's positive tone, North Korea is making clear ahead of the New York talks that it wants a separate dialogue on signing a peace treaty, in addition to six-nation nuclear negotiations, said Kim Keun-sik, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University in South Korea.
North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun told his Malaysian counterpart in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday that Pyongyang "has always supported measures to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula," the Malaysian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that Pak voiced "readiness to resume the six-party talks without conditions."
The six-nation talks group the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia. They were initially designed to provide the North with security guarantees and economic assistance in return for its nuclear dismantlement.
After months of tension heightened by the North's deadly shelling of a South Korean island last November, the nuclear envoys of the two countries met in a regional security forum in Indonesia last week and agreed to push for the resumption of nuclear disarmament talks.
"The (Korean) peninsula stands at the crossroads of detente and a vicious cycle of escalation tension," North Korean media said Wednesday, likening the current cease-fire among the countries who fought in the Korean War to "a time bomb."
Blasting the United States for its involvement in the war, North Korea's central television ran footage of veterans describing their fight against enemy forces as the official media marked what it called a victory anniversary. Reports also touted the wartime activities of the country's revered founder Kim Il Sung, whose son Kim Jong Il is now ruling the country and trying to hand over power to his own son.
About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the Korean War, in which North Korea and China fought against U.S., South Korean and U.N. forces. The North says it needs nuclear weapons because of the U.S. military presence there.
Associated Press writer May Cho contributed to this report.