North Korea and the United States have staked out vastly different positions at the opening of six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons. The talks -- involving the United States, North Korea, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia -- opened in Beijing Monday after a 13 month hiatus. During that time, North Korea tested a nuclear weapon, which led the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Pyongyang. North Korea is now demanding that all sanctions be lifted along with other measures in exchange for disarmament.
Any optimism that any of the negotiators might have felt when they arrived at the talks soon dissipated once the session got underway behind closed doors. News reports say North Korea's delegate demanded all financial sanctions against Pyongyang be lifted, that North Korea be given a nuclear reactor for power generation and that the North be considered a nuclear power -- all this before it would agree to give up its nuclear program.
Later, Japanese envoy Kenichiro Sasae declared North Korea's position "unacceptable." "The position of North Korea is widely apart from the rest of the countries. This is absolutely unacceptable to us."
For his part, U.S. envoy Christopher Hill told reporters North Korea could face more sanctions.
"We would like denuclearization by a diplomatic negotiation but if they don't want that we are quite prepared to go the other road, which as I mentioned yesterday, is a pretty tough road. It is going to be a long road but it involves a lot of measures that are designed to eventually bring the same result."
The United States wants North Korea to implement the terms of the September 2005 agreement, in which Pyongyang agreed to give up its nuclear program in return for aid and security guarantees. But North Korea suspended the accord after the United States imposed financial sanctions on Pyongyang for counterfeiting U.S. currency.
In October, North Korea announced it had tested a nuclear weapon -- a move that led the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Pyongyang.
North Korea's growing militancy is reported to have angered China. But while Beijing may want to see the nuclear issue resolved, China's tactics diverge from those of Washington -- according to Georgetown University's Robert Gallucci.
"We can count on them, I think, to help with the management of the issue but not according to an American script,” says Gallucci. “The American view here is that we can press the North Koreans through tough sanctions. The Chinese allowed a sanctions resolution to come out of the UN Security Council but they first moderated it so it wouldn't bite too much. So you can see it helps some but they are not about to adopt the American approach for dealing with North Korea."
North Korea's hard-line in the current round of talks appears to be a non-starter for the United States. Envoy Christopher Hill warned Monday that U.S. patience is running out.