Friday, July 13, 2007

NK wants direct military talks with U.S.

SEOUL, South Korea (Reuters) - North Korea called on Friday for military talks with the United States for peace and security on the peninsula, with Washington saying it can discuss a peace treaty after Pyongyang abandons its nuclear program.

Pyongyang, which often muddies the waters ahead of crucial moves concerning its atomic ambitions, is set to receive a team of U.N. nuclear personnel on Saturday who are to oversee the shutdown of its reactor and source of weapons-grade plutonium.

Six-way talks on ending North Korea's nuclear arms programs are set to resume on Wednesday in Beijing. The North, which has long sought direct talks with the United States, usually holds bilateral meetings with U.S. officials within those discussions.

"The Korean People's Army side proposes having talks between the DPRK and U.S. militaries to be attended by a U.N. representative," the North's military said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

The North, officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, said the talks would be for "discussing the issues related to ensuring the peace and security on the Korean peninsula".

U.S. officials have said in recent weeks that Washington is ready to discuss normalizing ties and a peace treaty to end the Korean War if the North follows up on its recent progress in disarmament and completely scraps its atomic arms program.

An analyst said this may be a ploy from reclusive North Korea to drive a wedge between the United States and it ally, the South.

"The comments appear to be intended to exclude South Korea and China in any talks for a peace treaty and to include the subject of removing U.S. troops from the South as part of the talks," head of North Korean military research at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, Baek Seung-joo said.

There have been reports in the South Korean media that officials are seeking a four-way dialogue among China, the two Koreas and the United States to examine a peace treaty. The North may have been responding to these reports, Baek said.

The 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a truce. The United States, which led U.N. forces, was a signatory to the armistice as well as North Korea and its ally, China. South Korea did not sign.

The United States stations about 30,000 troops in the South to support the country's some 670,000 strong military against an attack by the North.

The North repeated an often used line that the United States is bringing the peninsula to the brink of nuclear war and called on it to stop joint military drills with the South as well as cut out what it saw as a hostile policy to stifle it.

"It is the undeniable and legitimate right of the DPRK to have in place all the necessary self-defensive means to cope with the threat and blackmail of the U.S. in order to protect its right to existence," the North's statement said.

In a February deal among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, the North agreed to shut down its antiquated reactor in return for 50,000 tonnes of oil aid. E-mail to a friend.

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