updated 7/22/2005 1:06:40 AM ET 2005-07-22T05:06:40

North Korea said Friday that establishing a peace agreement to replace the cease-fire that ended the Korean War would also resolve its nuclear standoff with the international community.

A peace pact would “lead to putting an end to the U.S. hostile policy toward (North Korea), which spawned the nuclear issue,” a spokesman for the North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. That would “automatically result in the denuclearization of the peninsula.”

The unnamed spokesman, quoted by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, said such a move would “give a strong impetus” to international nuclear disarmament talks set to resume Tuesday in Beijing.

The North said earlier this month it would end its 13-month boycott of the talks — which include China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States — after being reassured by a U.S. envoy that Washington recognized Pyongyang’s sovereignty.

It wasn’t clear if the North’s new demand could throw off next week’s revived nuclear talks by creating yet another negotiating point to be hashed out among the six countries. The North’s delegation, led by Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, departed Friday for Beijing, KCNA reported.

The North said its new request “presents itself as an issue pending an urgent solution for fairly settling the nuclear issue between (North Korea) and the U.S.”

‘A long process’
Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, the South’s nuclear envoy, said Friday that all five countries in the talks besides the North “have reaffirmed their will to negotiate seriously and produce substantial and visible results.” However, he acknowledged there were differences in their approaches but declined to elaborate.

“This could be a long process,” Song said.

The North alleged Friday that Washington has for decades stifled efforts to turn the cease-fire into a lasting peace agreement, a policy that has meant “Northeast Asia still remains the biggest hotbed in the world.”

“To replace the fragile cease-fire mechanism by a lasting peace mechanism on the Korean Peninsula with a view to doing away with the last leftover of the Cold War era is essential not only for the peace and reunification of Korea but for the peace and security in Northeast Asia and the rest of the world,” the North’s spokesman said.

The two Koreas remain technically at war and hundreds of thousands of troops face off across their frontier, although since 2000 the two countries have sought to reconcile with South Korea seeking engagement with its communist neighbor to help foster reform.

About 32,500 American troops are deployed in South Korea in absence of a treaty.

North Korea’s latest nuclear standoff with the world began in 2002 when U.S. officials accused Pyongyang of running a secret uranium enrichment program in violation of an earlier deal to abandon its nuclear weapons development.

Since then, the North has withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and made moves that would allow it to create more radioactive materials for atomic bombs. In February, Pyongyang claimed publicly for the first time that it had nuclear weapons, but it hasn’t performed any known tests that would confirm its arsenal.

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