msnbc.com news services
updated 5/18/2006 6:37:30 AM ET 2006-05-18T10:37:30

The United States is considering a new approach to North Korea that would include beginning negotiations on a peace treaty at the same time as six-country talks on dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear programs, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.

The newspaper said on its Web site that President Bush was very likely to approve the new approach, which had been hotly debated by different administration factions. But that would only come if North Korea returned to the talks, which have been stalled for months.

North Korea has long demanded a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War and the administration has said previously it would be willing to consider working on such an agreement.

Later Thursday, a senior South Korean official told The Associated Press that negotiations on a peace treaty were likely only after substantial progress is made on ending the North's nuclear program.

A September agreement reached at six-party nuclear talks with the North was based on a broad assumption that peace negotiations would start when substantial progress was made on ending the North’s nuclear program, the South Korean official said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The official indicated such negotiations wouldn’t start any time soon.

In recent interviews with Reuters, two U.S. officials were extremely pessimistic about persuading the North to return to the table and said they did not expect any movement until at least after Bush left office.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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