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never been replaced by a peace treaty.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.