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North Korea Says US Peace Treaty Could Settle Nuclear Standoff

Just days before it ends a 13-month boycott of nuclear disarmament talks, North Korea has called for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War. While South Korea and the United States agree a treaty is an eventual goal, they are leery of distracting attention from convincing North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons.

North Korea's Central News Agency called Friday for a "peace mechanism" to replace the 1953 armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War. The armistice left North and South Korea technically at war, and Pyongyang and Washington have never established diplomatic relations.

Pyongyang says such an agreement would end what it calls a "hostile policy" by the United States, which the North blames for its nuclear weapons pursuits.

The United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea are to meet North Korea in Beijing next week to try to persuade the North to give up nuclear weapons.

South Korean Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lee Kyu-hyung says the partners will listen to North Korea's suggestions - but warns they not allow the talks to be sidetracked by new issues.

"You know that [the] goal of the six-party talks is very clear: how to dismantle the nuclear development program of North Korea," he said. "How to make a peace settlement, in legal terms, on the Korean peninsula, is another matter."

North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950. The 1953 armistice was signed after a U.S.-led United Nations coalition drove North Korean forces and their Chinese allies back to the present inter-Korean border at the 38th parallel. About 25,000 U.S. forces are currently stationed in South Korea to help ward off another invasion.

Retired General Paik Sun-yup is one of South Korea's most respected heroes from the 1950s war. He says the alliance between South Korea and the United States remains relevant today, because he believes North Korea still hopes to conquer the South.

"Their object [is] still same. No change," he said. "Direct, or indirect, they try to occupy South Korea."

The United States has not yet responded to Friday's statement by North Korea. Washington has said in the past it would listen closely to Pyongyang's concerns, although since the six-party talks started in 2003, it has rejected several issues raised by Pyongyang as peripheral to the question of nuclear weapons. The talks are scheduled to resume on Tuesday.