SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea's military proposed Friday holding direct talks with U.S. forces, an unusual plea amid recent progress on the nuclear standoff between the two countries.
The North's Korean Peoples Army proposed the talks, also be attended by a U.N. representative, "for the purpose of discussing the issues related to ensuring the peace and security on the Korean peninsula," the chief of the North Korean military's mission at the truce village of Panmunjom said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
"It is easy to miss a chance, but difficult to get it," the North warned.
The plea comes amid rising hopes for a peace treaty to replace the 54-year-old Korean War armistice in light of progress on the nuclear issue. The North is expected to soon shut down its sole operating atomic reactor that generates plutonium for bombs in accord with a February agreement with the U.S. and other regional powers.
Under agreements to resolve the nuclear issue, the sides also agreed to start discussing a peace regime to replace the armistice that ended the 1953 Korean War. That cease-fire has never been replaced by a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula technically in a state of war.
Kim Yong-kyu, a spokesman for the U.S. military in South Korea, said American officers were studying the North's statement.
But indicating that any further progress on detente will be difficult, the North's proposal came at the end of a lengthy statement criticizing Washington for stoking tension on the peninsula through the international standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
The military said that if U.S. pressure persists, implementing recent agreements on the nuclear issue would not be possible.
It added that the North also "will have no option but to exert utmost efforts for further rounding off the means for retaliatory strike strong enough to cope with the U.S. nuclear attack and pre-emptive strike in order to protect its dignity, sovereignty and right to existence."
Officers from the U.S. and North Korea have held general-level meetings since 1953, and lower-ranking officers also regularly consult at Panmunjom over administration of the cease-fire.
It appeared the North's latest request went beyond simple administrative talks on the cease-fire, as it noted it was ready to meet at "any place and at any time."