SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea called for an end to hostile ties with the United States and an atomic-free peninsula in a New Year message that comes weeks after it indicated it could end its year-long boycott of nuclear disarmament talks.
North Korea has made similar pledges before and analysts have cautioned it may call for separate discussions on formally establishing diplomatic ties with the United States before it agrees to resume the six-country nuclear talks.
"The fundamental task for ensuring peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in the rest of Asia is to put an end to the hostile relationship between the DPRK (North Korea) and the USA," the official news agency KCNA said in a report of a joint newspaper editorial on North Korea's foreign policy stance.
"It is the consistent stand of the DPRK to establish a lasting peace system on the Korean peninsula and make it nuclear-free through dialogue and negotiations."
The 1950-53 Korean War ended with a ceasefire, and no formal peace treaty has ever been reached between the U.S.-led U.N. forces that fought with the South against North Korean and Chinese forces.
U.S. President Barack Obama wrote a personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il this month to try to persuade Pyongyang to return to nuclear disarmament talks. It was delivered by the first official envoy his administration has sent to Pyongyang.
The North responded to the visit by indicating it could return to the dormant, six-way nuclear discussions with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
Destitute and isolated North Korea a year ago stepped away from a deal in those talks to halt its nuclear program in exchange for massive aid and an end to its international ostracism.
It was hit with fresh U.N. sanctions for a nuclear test it conducted in May. These delivered a heavy blow to its already staggering economy, which may put pressure on it to make concessions.
The United States and others want North Korea at least to return to an agreement it walked away from to take apart its aging Yongbyon nuclear plant, which makes plutonium for weapons, and let international inspectors back into the country.
North Korea has exploded two nuclear devices but has yet to show it has a working nuclear bomb. Experts doubt the North has the ability to miniaturize an atomic weapon to place on a missile, but it has been trying to develop such a warhead.
Nuclear weapons are seen by North Korea as the crowning achievement of leader Kim Jong-il's "military first" rule that have prevented a U.S. invasion. Few analysts expect that he will ever give them up.
"North has absolutely no interest in normalizing relations with the United States. As soon as the North does that, it loses all reason to exist," said B.R. Myers, an expert on the North's ideology at Dongseo University.
"As soon as people think it is possible to get along with America, they will ask themselves why they need a 'military first' policy.," Myers said in a recent interview.
North Korea lays out its policy priorities in the New Year's editorials published in its official media. This year, it repeated pledges to rebuild its economy and turn the state into a "strong and prosperous nation".
Leader Kim, who is often silent in the North's media, made a rare statement in which he mentioned his economic goals and a traditional Korean folk song called "Arirang".
"When the people's living standards are decisively improved, hooray for socialism and singing of Arirang of prosperity can ring out louder across the country and the gate to a prosperous nation be opened," Kim was quoted as saying.
Editing by Nick Macfie