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SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. troops will remain on the Korean peninsula even if the North and South reach a peace deal to replace the armistice that ended their 1950-1953 war, South Korea's foreign minister said on Friday.
The leaders of the divided Koreas said at a historic summit earlier this month that their countries wanted to soon meet the United States and China -- signatories of the Korean War ceasefire -- for discussions on a peace treaty.
"The U.S. military will continue to stay on the Korean peninsula after the establishment of a peace regime and play a role that suits the new security environment in Northeast Asia," Song Min-soon told a forum.
The United States has said it can strike a peace treaty only after the North has ended its nuclear weapons programme, considered one of the greatest security threats in Asia.
North Korea, which conducted its first nuclear test in October 2006, for years has demanded the United States remove its troops from the peninsula.
"The South and the North will play the leading role in the Korean peninsula peace regime that will be established, as they are the ones who will have to uphold it," Song said.
"The United States and China will play roles that adequately reflect their status in forming the 1953 armistice."
The United States has about 28,000 soldiers in South Korea to support the country's some 670,000 troops. North Korea has a 1.2 million-strong military, most of whom are stationed near the heavily fortified border that divides the peninsula.
North Korea is expected to start disabling facilities at its Yongbyon atomic plant in November and give an inventory of its nuclear weapons programme by the end of the year as part of a disarmament deal it reached China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
"Within November, there will be tangible progress on disablement and disclosure," the South's chief envoy to the six-way talks, Chun Yung-woo, told the forum. That should set the stage for the four countries to begin peace talks, he added.