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N. Korea reopens border, pushes for treaty with US

By Choe Sang-Hun
New York Times / September 2, 2009

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SEOUL - North Korea restored regular border crossings for traffic going to South Korean factories in the North yesterday, while its leader, Kim Jong Il, reiterated his government’s call for a peace treaty with the United States.

North Korea had previously called for talks with Washington to replace the truce - which fell short of a formal peace treaty - that ended the Korean War in 1953. “We can ease tensions and remove the danger of war on the peninsula when the United States abandons its hostile policy and signs a peace treaty with us,’’ Kim said in a commentary carried on Pyongyang Radio, which broadcasts North Korean government statements abroad.

The dispatch, which was broadcast late Monday, did not say when Kim made the statement. But the remark was the latest in a number of recent conciliatory overtures from the North.

Meanwhile, yesterday, North Korea restored regular trucking and personnel traffic for South Korean companies that have operations in a joint industrial park in the North Korean border city of Kaesong. The North had sharply curtailed such traffic in December as cross-border tensions grew.

The border will now open 23 times a day to traffic to and from Kaesong, up from six times, said Lee Jong-joo, a spokeswoman with the Unification Ministry in Seoul, the South’s capital. Some 110 South Korean factories employ about 40,000 North Korean workers at Kaesong.

Ian Kelly, a State Department spokesman, said Monday that Washington was “encouraged’’ by the North’s recent gestures toward the South, but he said he had no comment on the North’s call for a peace treaty.

Kelly urged North Korea to return to six-nation talks with regional powers about the dismantling of its nuclear weapons programs. The North, which prefers a bilateral dialogue with the United States, has said the six-party framework is dead.

Also yesterday, a diplomatic delegation left Pyongyang, the North’s capital, for a visit to Beijing, according to KCNA, the official North Korean news agency. The group was led by Kim Yong Il, a deputy foreign minister, although KCNA gave no further details. China is North Korea’s principal trading partner and its biggest supplier of aid. It also has been the host of the six-party talks that include the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

Washington has said that negotiating a peace treaty with the North is possible only as part of a broader process that addresses the North’s nuclear disarmament. North Korea conducted its second nuclear test in May, and there is a growing suspicion among analysts in Seoul that the North is trying to win diplomatic recognition from Washington while also being accepted as a nuclear power.