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 latest offer, made during a high profile visit to the reclusive state by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, largely repeats Pyongyang’s long-held contention that Washington holds the key to its willingness to give up building an atomic arsenal.
“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 during 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.”
Washington has said recently it was open to direct talks with the North to coax it back to six party nuclear talks with the two Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
One new element is the apparent willingness by the North to return to the six-party talks, to end its nuclear weapons development in return for massive aid and access to the international community, which it walked away from late last year, repeatedly calling the format 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 is damaging its weapons trade, one of the broken economy’s few major sources of income.
In an unwelcome reminder to the North of its pariah status, there have been fresh reports of detention of North Korean sea traffic, most recently in Indian and South Korean waters.
Analysts had said that Wen’s visit was unlikely to yield more than opaque promises from Pyongyang on the nuclear dispute.
“Through visits like this, North Korea is mostly trying to create the impression that other countries respect and heed it, that it’s a world power. Of course, that’s not true, but the impression helps its leader bolster his (Kim’s) authority,” said Zhang Liangui, an expert on North Korea at the Central Party School, an influential state institute in Beijing.
China is the nearest the hermit North can claim as a powerful ally and Wen’s visit was given widespread coverage by the tightly-controlled North Korean media.
A dinner hosted by Kim for his visitor, marking 60 years since the two countries established formal ties, “proceeded in an amicable atmosphere overflowing with friendship from its beginning to its end,” KCNA reported.
Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Beijing; Editing by Jeremy Laurence