North Korea, replying to South Korean President Roh Tae Woo’s appeal for reunification of the divided peninsula, Wednesday asserted that it is willing to pursue reconciliation but that all U.S. troops must first be removed from the south.
Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju, addressing the U.N. General Assembly, cited significant obstacles to reuniting the two nations, but the tone of his speech was more conciliatory than previous North Korean declarations on the issue.
Kang made no direct reply to Roh’s suggestion Tuesday that a six-nation conference be convened to discuss a peace treaty and reunification. Instead, he proposed talks involving the two Koreas, and possibly the United States, to reach a formal agreement to replace the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953. Such an agreement must include withdrawal of the 40,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, he said.
He did not embrace the goal of a full reunification of the two countries, a cause pressed by many South Korean students in recent demonstrations. Rather, he echoed the north’s longstanding proposal for a federation, in which the two would coexist peacefully but retain their separate political systems.
Kang said such a confederation must be established before the Koreas can seek membership in the United Nations.
“If the north and south of Korea enter the U.N. separately, it will fix the division of Korea and legalize the existence of two Koreas internationally,” he said. Currently, the two nations have only observer status at the international body.
Lee Hong Koo, the South Korean minister for reunification who accompanied Roh to New York, said he was encouraged by the temperate tone of Kang’s speech.
He said that North Korea apparently is trying to “buy more time” before embarking seriously on a reunification process.