Why has North Korea insisted first on a peace treaty with the U.S.?
North Korea has long demanded a permanent agreement that would supersede the temporary 1953 armistice that halted but did not formally end the Korean War, which basically pitted an alliance of the United States and South Korea against an alliance of China and North Korea. By some estimates, five million soldiers and civilians died in the conflict.
In the North’s view, a formal peace treaty with the United States would help to ensure that the Americans do not attack and topple the government. An American-led military assault always has been the fear of North Korea’s ruling Kim family and a prime justification for what North Korea’s state media has called its nuclear “treasured sword of justice.”
A peace treaty also would put pressure on the United States to withdraw its military presence from South Korea, which is exactly what the North Koreans want — especially if the denuclearization issue can be negotiated later.
“If you end the state of hostilities, then questions start to arise. Why do we have forces there? Why do we have a missile defense? How does it impact our relationship with South Korea and Japan?,” said Victor D. Cha, a Georgetown University expert on North Korea. “We all think peace is a good thing, but peace is more complicated than you think.”
Mr. Cha, whose nomination to be ambassador to South Korea was aborted after he criticized the Trump administration’s North Korea policy, said a peace treaty before denuclearization would be a tremendous victory for the North Koreans: “They would basically see that as accepting them as a nuclear weapons state.”
Would Trump seek a peace treaty with Kim?
American officials, including Mr. Trump’s top aides, have contended that a peace treaty cannot be discussed until the North denuclearizes, among other conditions. In a further complication, China, a signer of the armistice, could assert that it has rights to be part of any peace treaty discussion.