October 5, 2009 / 9:48 PM / in 10 years

North Korea's Kim says U.S. key to nuclear talks return

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Tuesday it was ready to return to international talks on ending its nuclear weapons program but demanded negotiations first with the United States.

The offer came during a visit to Pyongyang by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao whose government, the closest among major powers the reclusive state has for an ally, pledged to strengthen bonds with North Korea.

“The hostile relations between the DPRK (North Korea) and the United States should be converted into peaceful ties through the bilateral talks without fail,” North Korea’s KCNA news agency quoted leader Kim Jong-il as saying at a meeting with Wen.

“We expressed our readiness to hold multilateral talks, depending on the outcome of the DPRK-U.S. talks. The six-party talks are also included in the multilateral talks.”

North Korea walked away from the talks with five powers — China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States — on ending its nuclear weapons program late last year and has repeatedly said the format was dead.

“Our efforts to attain the goal of denuclearizing the peninsula remain unchanged,” Kim said.

North Korea argues that it is U.S. hostility, and its around 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea, that is pushing it toward building a nuclear arsenal.

It has long sought a peace treaty with the United States to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War and full diplomatic relations, which would in turn give the impoverished state access to international financial aid.

The visit by the Chinese premier has been a major boost for Kim, increasingly isolated from the international community for nuclear and missile tests earlier this year and facing tougher sanctions which analysts say could be damaging its lucrative weapons trade.

Reporting by Jonathan Thatcher

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