US: N. Korea offered peace talks with US, bailed over nukes

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White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 1, 2016. Earnest discussed President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to Baltimore, Md., to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, and other topics. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 1, 2016. North Korea declined to further pursue peace talks after mentions of denuclearization. (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — The White House said Monday that North Korea sought to discuss a peace treaty but bailed after the U.S. insisted denuclearization be part of the discussions.

Spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. considered a proposal from North Korea, which has long sought a peace treaty with Washington. The 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, and the U.S. retains 28,500 troops in South Korea as a deterrent against the North.

The diplomatic discussions took place prior to North Korea’s recent nuclear test and rocket launch that have further strained relations. Congress has since passed and President Barack Obama has signed additional sanctions on North Korea. The U.S., China and others are also considering U.N. sanctions.

“There was interest expressed by the North Koreans in discussing a peace treaty,” Earnest told a news conference. “We considered their proposal, but also made clear that denuclearization had to be part of any discussions. The truth is that the North Koreans rejected that response.”

“Those discussions were entirely consistent with the longstanding policy that the Obama administration has put forward,” Earnest said.

The U.S. previously has expressed openness to peace talks but said that Pyongyang would first have to abandon its nuclear program. Talks on the nuclear issue haven’t gotten anywhere for years. International aid-for-disarmament negotiations that were hosted by China have been stalled since 2008.

The international response to North Korea’s Jan. 6 nuclear test and Feb. 7 rocket launch will be discussed when Secretary of State John Kerry meets Tuesday with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

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