The six-party talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons are scheduled to convene in Beijing Monday, but North Korea has already indicated it will resist pressure to disarm until the United States lifts financial sanctions against it and changes its attitude toward the reclusive communist state.
North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan arrived in Beijing Saturday saying it is too early to be optimistic about progress at the talks.
Kim and his counterparts from the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea are to begin a new round of discussions Monday after a 13-month hiatus.
North Korea agreed in September 2005 to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and aid. But two months later it withdrew from talks because of financial sanctions imposed by Washington over alleged North Korean complicity in money laundering and counterfeiting of U.S. currency.
Since then, North Korea has conducted a nuclear weapons test and now considers itself a nuclear power. Shortly after the test, North Korea indicated it would return to the talks.
Kim says his country needs a nuclear deterrent because of what he calls Washington's hostile policy towards his country's communist regime.
Kim says that as long as North Korea needs a deterrent, it has no reason to abandon it. But he says the negotiators can discuss any other matters related to the September 2005 agreement as long as sanctions against North Korea are lifted first.
It is not clear whether he was referring to the U.S. financial sanctions, United Nations sanctions imposed after the North Korean nuclear test that ban trade in weapons and luxury goods with Pyongyang, or both.
The United States has indicated that it intends to be flexible on resolving the dispute over the U.S. financial sanctions. But it has also said that the U.N. sanctions will continue to be enforced even if the six-party talks make progress.
On a stopover in Tokyo Saturday the chief U.S. negotiator, Christopher Hill, said the ball is in North Korea's court and it is now time to implement the September 2005 agreement.
Hill also said that he intends to meet his North Korean counterpart ahead of the group discussions.
Host China has called on all parties to be flexible, pragmatic and creative to move toward the goal of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.