The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) yesterday called for talks on a peace treaty to end the state between it and the Republic of Korea, saying improved ties with the United States and an end to sanctions could revive the stalled nuclear disarmament talks.
The message, released by DPRK's foreign ministry, was the country's first public statement of its position since US Special Envoy Stephen Bosworth's Pyongyang tour more than a month ago.
Experts, however, were divided on assessing the statement, debating on a vital problem of which issue to be addressed first - denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula or the absence of a peace treaty.
"If confidence is to be built between the DPRK and the US, it is essential to conclude a peace treaty for terminating the state of war, a root cause of the hostile relations, to begin with," Pyongyang's KCNA news agency carried the official statement.
"The removal of the barrier of such discrimination and distrust as sanctions may soon lead to the opening of the Six-Party Talks," it stated.
The 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, thus leaving the peninsula technically at war. The DPRK, the US-led United Nations Command and China are signatories to the cease fire, while the Republic of Korea (ROK) has never signed the accord.
Under such circumstances, Pyongyang does not feel safe, making it resort to nuclear weapons for its security, analysts have said before.
Last year, the DPRK pulled out of the talks with the US, China, ROK, Russia and Japan after its second nuclear test drew UN sanctions. Its first nuclear test was conducted in autumn 2006.
Yesterday's statement "appears to be an overture by the DPRK to try and, in its own way, break through the logjam that we have seen for more than a year now in the talks," AP quoted Peter Beck, an expert on DPRK at Stanford University.
Zhang Liangui, an expert at the Central Party School in Beijing, however disagreed, suggesting the proposal was part of a "DPRK conspiracy".
"The DPRK is trying to change the fundamental parameter of the Six-Party Talks, which is the resolution of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue through peaceful negotiations," Zhang said. "Other parties in the talks should stick to this principle."
Zhang said DPRK's ultimate aim was to be recognized as a nuclear power.
The Six-Party Talks began in 2003. In 2005 and 2007, there were agreements on a disarmament pact calling for the DPRK to end its nuclear programs in exchange for economic aid, security assurances and diplomatic recognition.
The administrations of presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush have said Washington can discuss a peace treaty once the DPRK ends its nuclear arms program, "considered one of the biggest security risks to economically vital North Asia," Reuters said.
Wang Fan, an expert at the China Foreign Affairs University, however, suggested that Washington should first make some concessions before trying to denuclearize the peninsula.
The DPRK's statement was a "positive signal", following which the resumption of the Six-Party Talks would be "possible", he said.
Yet, the statement helps little to address the "vital problem" of which comes first - a peace treaty or Pyongyang's denuclearization, Wang said.
"I think the US should first make some concessions, such as ending the condition of war," Wang said.
When the Six-Party Talks do resume, the nations involved should first work out some binding pre-conditions in order to ensure that the DPRK does not quit the talks in a huff as it did before.