U.S., China, North and South Korea pledge peace effort Working groups planned to move toward treaty

October 25, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

GENEVA -- The United States, China and the two Koreas agreed yesterday to create two working parties to explore a peace treaty and to examine confidence-building measures on the peninsula, home to the most heavily defended border in the world.

Concluding four days of talks here, the four countries also agreed to hold a fourth round of discussions in Geneva in January. The working groups will not begin work before then, according to a statement that described the closed-door discussions as "useful and constructive" and "conducted in a businesslike manner."

The agreement came after the talks had hit an apparent snag when the official news agency of the Stalinist government in North Korea issued a statement last week criticizing the timing of U.S. military exercises with South Korea. Those maneuvers, routine since 1961, are scheduled to begin tomorrow, the day after talks here are set to end.

It was the third round of such talks over the last few years.

The last time the four parties met, in March, the talks collapsed over North Korea's insistence that the United States withdraw its troops from the border dividing the peninsula, a demand that has repeatedly been rejected.

The Korean War of 1950-1953 ended in an armistice, leaving North and South Korea technically in a state of war.

For 45 years the border has remained a potential flash point, guarded by 37,000 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Korean troops on both sides.

The United States and South Korea have indicated a willingness to discuss troop withdrawal, but officials say South Korea objects to the demand being on the formal agenda of the talks.

North Korea has also sought a separate peace treaty with the United States, but the Clinton administration has maintained that any such treaty must be signed between the two Koreas.

The chief U.S. negotiator, Charles Kartman, sounded cautiously optimistic when the talks opened, although on Friday evening he stressed that there was no agreement yet. "We've made quite a bit of progress in narrowing the differences, but the North Korean position remains quite firm," he said, emerging from the first day of talks on Wednesday.

The resumption of the talks here was part of a deal between the United States and North Korea in a negotiation held in New York last month that centered on North Korea's missile program.

Pub Date: 10/25/98

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