President Barack Obama may have made a landmark statement Friday when he said the United States would engage North Korea should it express a desire to denuclearize, but nothing has changed for Pyongyang. The North Korean Foreign Ministry declined the opportunity to open negotiations Saturday, Reuters reported. Instead, it again demanded a peace treaty in place of the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War.
"No issue in which the countries concerned, including the U.S., are interested can be settled unless a peace treaty is concluded before anything else," the ministry said in a statement. "If the U.S. insists on its hostile policy, it will only see the DPRK's limitless bolstering of nuclear deterrence and the growth of its revolutionary armed forces."
Obama held a joint news conference with South Korean President Park Geun-hye Friday in which the two leaders reaffirmed the strength of their alliance. Park called the U.S.-South Korea relationship a "lynchpin of peace and stability" for Asia and the Korean Peninsula where tensions have been high in recent months.
When a reporter likened the North Korea situation to Obama's controversial deal to lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for its denuclearization, the president didn't hesitate to send a message.
"At the point where Pyongyang says, we’re interested in seeing relief from sanctions and improved relations, and we are prepared to have a serious conversation about denuclearization -- I think it’s fair to say we’ll be right there at the table," he said, according to a White House transcript, adding it's unclear whether North Korea would subject itself to verification processes like Iran. "But we haven't even gotten to that point yet because there’s been no indication on the part of the North Koreans, as there was with the Iranians, that they could foresee a future in which they did not possess or were not pursuing nuclear weapons."
North Korea -- which has hinted it's preparing to conduct a fourth nuclear test -- rejected this idea Saturday. Curbing its nuclear capabilities wasn't the way to calm the conflict on the peninsula, it said. Only a peace treaty could "put a definite end to the evil cycle of escalating confrontation and tension," Agence France Presse reported.
The peace treaty request was not new. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong brought up the "crucial" agreement at the United Nations General Assembly meeting earlier this month. "It is high time for the United States to come up with the signing of a peace treaty," the Associated Press reported he said, adding that it was "the best option we can afford."