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North Korea to decide soon on peace talks

April 8, 1997
Web posted at: 2:02 p.m. EDT (1802 GMT)

Latest developments:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Amid a growing sympathetic international response to its severe food shortages, North Korea has told the United States it will soon decide whether to enter peace talks with rival South Korea, U.S. officials said.

Separately, the chairman of the U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff met his South Korean counterpart in Seoul on Tuesday to discuss security on the Korean peninsula.

The two-day visit by General John Shalikashvili will overlap with a trip to Seoul by U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen.

The United States maintains 37,000 troops in South Korea to defend against the communist North.

U.S. hopeful on peace initiative

Map

The Clinton administration believes North Korea has been positively influenced by the "cumulative effect" of recent food aid appeals for the country and was optimistic the Stalinist regime will agree to enter peace talks, one official said.

"The North Koreans indicated that they will soon give the United States and the Republic of Korea a formal response to our joint briefing" proposal on peace talks, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns told a news briefing on Monday.

Pyongyang communicated this view when U.S., North Korean and South Korean diplomats met in New York last Friday. "Our hope, of course, is that the North Koreans will agree (to) the four-party proposal themselves and that those talks can be begun," Burns said.

Asked about a statement by a South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Monday that North Korea had asked for a second briefing on the proposal, Burns said: "We've had a lot of briefings. We're willing to have another, I guess, but we'd really like the North Koreans to accept the proposal."

Submarine incident, food problems

Burns

A year ago, the United States and South Korea launched an initiative for negotiations on a peace treaty formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War. China would also participate.

But the initiative lagged as the infiltration of a North Korean submarine into the south last September and North Korea's severe food problems worsened the already tense and complicated situation on the Korean peninsula.

The submarine incident was defused in December when North Korea apologized and agreed to attend a formal "briefing" on the peace talks proposal, which U.S. and South Korean officials provided in New York March 5.

The food problem caused cash-strapped Pyongyang to plead for international donations and commercial barter deals. There were indications Pyongyang thought it was promised more food aid than initially received in return for attending a briefing.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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