N.Korea military wants talks with US

Updated: 2007-07-13 13:29

SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea's military proposed Friday holding direct talks with US forces, an unusual plea amid recent progress on the nuclear standoff between the two countries.

The North's Korean Peoples Army proposed the talks, also be attended by a UN representative, "for the purpose of discussing the issues related to ensuring the peace and security on the Korean peninsula," the chief of the North Korean military's mission at the truce village of Panmunjom said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

"It is easy to miss a chance, but difficult to get it," North Korea warned.

The plea comes amid rising hopes for a peace treaty to replace the 54-year-old Korean War armistice in light of progress on the nuclear issue. North Korea is expected to soon shut down its sole operating atomic reactor in accord with a February agreement with the US and other regional powers.

Under agreements to resolve the nuclear issue, the sides also agreed to start discussing a peace regime to replace the armistice that ended the 1953 Korean War. That cease-fire has never been replaced by a peace treaty.

But indicating that any further progress on detente will be difficult, North Korea's proposal came at the end of a lengthy statement criticizing Washington for stoking tension on the peninsula through the international standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear program.

The military said that if US pressure persists, implementing recent agreements on the nuclear issue would not be possible.

It added that North Korea also "will have no option but to exert utmost efforts for further rounding off the means for retaliatory strike strong enough to cope with the US nuclear attack and pre-emptive strike in order to protect its dignity, sovereignty and right to existence."

Officers from the US and North Korea have held general-level meetings since 1953, and lower-ranking officers also regularly consult at Panmunjom over administration of the cease-fire.

The US military in South Korea had no immediate comment on North Korea's request.

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