WASHINGTON – The United States said Sunday it received a North Korean proposal to discuss a peace treaty for the Korean Peninsula but rejected it when Pyongyang refused to consider reducing its nuclear arsenal.
A State Department spokesman disclosed the exchange when asked about a Wall Street Journal report that President Barack Obama’s administration had secretly agreed to peace talks days before Pyongyang exploded a nuclear device last month.
“Its nuclear test on Jan. 6 ended the diplomatic gambit,” the newspaper said. The nuclear blast was the country’s fourth, after explosions in 2006, 2009 and 2013.
The contacts took place at the United Nations, where U.S. and North Korean diplomats can mingle informally in the absence of formal relations between their two countries, the newspaper reported. It said the talks would have aimed at formally ending the Korean War of 1950 to 1953.
“To be clear, it was the North Koreans who proposed discussing a peace treaty,” spokesman John Kirby told reporters traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry in Amman.
“We carefully considered their proposal, and made clear that denuclearization had to be part of any such discussion,” he added.
“The North rejected our response. Our response to the N.K. proposal was consistent with our long-standing focus on denuclearization.”
Citing unnamed U.S. officials familiar with the matter, the newspaper said the White House had dropped a long-standing condition to talks — that North Korea first take steps to cut back its nuclear arsenal.
“Instead the U.S. called for North Korea’s atomic-weapons program to be simply part of the talks,” the newspaper reported.
In response to the nuclear test in January, which triggered global concern and condemnation, the U.N. Security Council agreed to roll out new measures to punish Pyongyang.
And on Thursday, Obama signed off on new measures passed by the U.S. Congress that tighten sanctions on anyone importing goods or technology related to weapons of mass destruction into North Korea, or anyone who knowingly engaged in human rights abuses.
The measure also heaps additional financial pressure on the regime of leader Kim Jong Un — already under sanctions — by aiming to cut down on money laundering and narcotics trafficking, two activities that are believed to be funneling millions of dollars into Kim’s inner circle.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal noted that Obama has pointed to the Iran deal last year as an example of the kind of rapprochement available to Kim should he enter talks.
But the newspaper said that compared with Iran, “the White House sees North Korea as far more opaque and uncooperative. The latest fruitless exchanges typified diplomacy between the U.S. and Pyongyang in recent years.”