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U.S., N. Korea had exchanged views over peace treaty talks

The United States exchanged views with North Korea over Pyongyang's proposal to hold peace treaty talks, but no agreement was reached as Washington insisted that denuclearization should be the top priority for such talks, a diplomatic source has said.

The exchange took place via the North's mission to the United Nations, known as the "New York channel," after North Korea renewed its calls for peace treaty talks with the U.S. to formally end the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War, the source said Sunday.

But the two sides failed to reach an agreement as Washington insisted that such talks should first deal with denuclearization as the top priority before the issue of a peace treaty, the source told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity.

Earlier, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. had agreed to hold peace treaty talks with North Korea on condition that the discussions also deal with denuclearization, but Pyongyang rejected the U.S. counterproposal and went ahead with its fourth nuclear test.

The exchange was one of several unsuccessful attempts that U.S. officials say they made to discuss denuclearization with North Korea during the second term of President Barack Obama while also negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program, the report said.

"To be clear, it was the North Koreans who proposed discussing a peace treaty. We carefully considered their proposal and made clear that denuclearization had to be part of any such discussion," State Department spokesman John Kirby said. 

"The North rejected our response. Our response to North Korea's proposal was consistent with our longstanding focus on denuclearization," he said.

It is not new that North Korea wants a peace treaty with the U.S. to formally end the Korean War. But Pyongyang pressed the demand harder late last year after Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong made the demand during a speech at the U.N. General Assembly in October.

The U.S. has said the demand is a nonstarter as long as the North pursues nuclear ambitions. U.S. officials have stressed that the communist regime has got the order wrong and should first focus on negotiations to end its nuclear program.

The South Korean government echoed such a view, saying that the North's denuclearization should be the top priority.

"The issue of peace treaty talks is not just a matter between Washington and Pyongyang," Jeong Joon-hee, spokesman at the Unification Ministry, told a regular press briefing Monday. "South Korea should lead (discussions over the issue)."

Daniel Kritenbrink, senior Asian affairs director at the National Security Council, said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency in December that everything is possible if Pyongyang demonstrates its seriousness about denuclearization.

Earlier this week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed to hold peace treaty negotiations with Pyongyang in tandem with denuclearization talks, but the U.S. rejected the proposal, saying denuclearization remains its top priority. (Yonhap)