North refuses to cut nukes, so US rejects peace talks

WASHINGTON • The United States said it had received a North Korean proposal to discuss a peace treaty for the Korean peninsula but rejected it when Pyongyang refused to consider reducing its nuclear arsenal.

State Department spokesman John Kirby disclosed the exchange on Sunday when asked about a Wall Street Journal report that President Barack Obama's administration had secretly agreed to peace talks to formally end the Korean War of 1950 to 1953, days before Pyongyang carried out its latest nuclear test early this year.

That Jan 6 test - the country's fourth after previous tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013 - brought an end to the exploratory contacts that took place at the United Nations, where US and North Korean diplomats can mingle informally in the absence of formal relations between their two countries, the paper reported.

"To be clear, it was the North Koreans who proposed discussing a peace treaty," Mr Kirby told reporters travelling with Secretary of State John Kerry in Amman, Jordan.

"We carefully considered their proposal, and made clear that denuclearisation had to be part of any such discussion," he added. "The North rejected our response. Our response to the North Korean proposal was consistent with our longstanding focus on denuclearisation."

Citing unnamed US officials familiar with the matter, the paper claimed the White House had dropped a longstanding condition to talks - that North Korea first take steps to cut back its nuclear arsenal.

"Instead, the US called for North Korea's atomic weapons programme to be simply part of the talks," the newspaper reported.

In response to the North's January nuclear test, which triggered global concern and condemnation, the UN Security Council agreed to roll out new measures to punish the reclusive Asian nation.

And in China, Pyongyang's main ally, banks including a branch of the country's biggest bank Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) have frozen accounts belonging to North Koreans, South Korean newspaper Dong-A Ilbo reported yesterday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2016, with the headline 'North refuses to cut nukes, so US rejects peace talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe