North and South Korea have agreed ‘in principle’ to end Korean War

South Korean president says talks are being held back by Pyongyang’s objections to ‘US hostility’

South and North Korea, China and the US have agreed "in principle" to declare a formal end to the Korean War, almost 70 years after the conflict ended in a shaky truce, the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, has said.

But Mr Moon conceded that talks on the 1950-53 war were being held back by North Korean objections to present-day “US hostility”.

Speaking in Canberra on Monday during his four-day visit to Australia, Mr Moon said he believed the four main parties had agreed in principle to a peace declaration.

But he added that North Korea had made an end to US hostility a precondition for talks.

"And because of that, we are not able to sit down for a negotiation on the declarations between South and North Korea, and those between North Korea and United States, " he said at a press conference with the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison. "And we hope that talks will be initiated. We are making efforts towards that."

Mr Moon said he believed it was important to end the “unstable” armistice that had been in place for almost seven decades, adding that a peace declaration could improve the prospects for a breakthrough on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.

“This is going to help us start negotiations for denuclearisation and peace . . . [on] the Korean peninsula,” he said. “This is very important on that front as well.”

Hours later, the South Korean unification minister, Lee In-young, said a peace declaration could be a “turning point for a new phase for peace”, and urged North Korea to accept Seoul’s offer of dialogue.

“North Korea has been seemingly showing a more open manner towards dialogue than before,” Mr Lee said, according to the Yonhap news agency. “North Korea has fired multiple short-range missiles this year but it hasn’t made the situation deteriorate severely by raising tensions to a high level.”

At war

The Korean War ended in July 1953 with an armistice but not a peace treaty, meaning the North and South are still technically at war.

Mr Moon, who has made engagement with North Korea a key feature of his administration, is pushing for a peace treaty before his single five-year term as South Korean president ends next spring.

He repeated his call for a formal end to hostilities during his speech at the UN General Assembly in September, prompting Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, to describe his initiative as an “interesting and good idea”.

Chinese officials have reportedly voiced support for the proposal, while South Korea and the US are reportedly in the final stages of drawing up a draft declaration.

But North Korea has indicated that it will not join talks on ending the conflict while the US maintains its hostile stance, a reference to the presence of 28,500 American troops in South Korea and annual US-South Korea military drills that Pyongyang regards as a rehearsal for an invasion.

Opinion in South Korea and the US is divided over the wisdom of signing a formal peace treaty while North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in defiance of UN sanctions.

Supporters agree with Mr Moon that it would normalise ties with the North and encourage the regime to return to stalled nuclear talks, but critics believe it would reward the regime’s provocative behaviour and could threaten the presence of US troops in the South. – Guardian