US rejects North Korea's peace treaty bid over latter's refusal to cut nuclear arsenal

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaking during a commendation ceremony for those who contributed to the recent launch of a satellite in Pyongyang on Feb 19, 2016.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaking during a commendation ceremony for those who contributed to the recent launch of a satellite in Pyongyang on Feb 19, 2016.PHOTO: EPA/ YNA

WASHINGTON (AFP) - 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 (Feb 21) 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 Journal 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 NK proposal was consistent with our long-standing focus on denuclearisation."

Citing unnamed US officials familiar with the matter, the Journal claimed the White House had dropped a long-standing 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 on Thursday, Mr Obama signed off on new measures passed by the US Congress that tighten sanctions on anyone importing goods or technology related to weapons of mass destruction into North Korea, or anyone who knowingly engaged in human rights abuses.

The measure also heaps additional financial pressure on the already-sanctioned regime of leader Kim Jong Un, by aiming to cut down on money laundering and narcotics trafficking, two major illicit activities believed to be funnelling millions of dollars into Mr Kim's inner circle.