The incoming president of South Korea says one of his top goals is to sign a peace treaty with North Korea, replacing the armistice that ended the Korean War 50 years ago. The new South Korean leader thinks the first step to a treaty will be a peaceful end to the current dispute over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.
Signing a treaty with Pyongyang is high on the list of policy goals that President-elect Roh Moo-hyun's transition team has released. Mr. Roh, who takes office Tuesday, wants the South Korean government to take three steps to establish a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.
The first is to reach out to North Korea to peacefully resolve the current dispute over the North's nuclear weapons program. The second is to continue implementing agreements with Pyongyang in order to build trust between the two neighbors.
Third, Mr. Roh wants, at long last, to sign a peace treaty with North Korea, which invaded South Korea in 1950, and with which the South is still technically at war. The Korean War ended in 1953 with an armistice, but hostilities have flared briefly on several occasions over the past 50 years.
Resolving the nuclear issue, Mr. Roh's first goal, will be difficult. The United States said last October that Pyongyang had admitted having a covert nuclear weapons program, in violation of several international agreements.
Since then, North Korea has withdrawn from the global nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, moved to restart idled nuclear facilities and expelled international nuclear monitors. The United Nations will consider imposing sanctions on North Korea as a result, and Pyongyang in turn has threatened to withdraw from the armistice agreement if sanctions are imposed.
In a nearly daily outpouring of rhetoric, North Korea claims that the United States plans to attack it, which Washington denies.
Pyongyang insists on direct talks with Washington, and says the issue can only be resolved if the United States is willing to sign a non-aggression treaty. Washington rules out a treaty, but says it is open to holding talks.
The U.S. Ambassador to Seoul, Thomas Hubbard, said all options for dealing with North Korea remain on the table. "We in the United States want to resolve the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons program through diplomacy and dialogue. Prudence, however, requires that we keep all options available," he said.
Mr. Roh has said he would oppose any U.S. plan for a military attack to destroy North Korea's nuclear facilities. Any such attack, he said, could prompt Pyongyang to launch a devastating attack on the South.