American and North Korean diplomatic delegations have arrived in Beijing ahead of three-way talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly will focus on ending North Korea's suspected programs to build nuclear weapons once and for all.
The U.S. side says isolated, impoverished North Korea can expect no improvement in relations or aid unless it disavows of nuclear weapons in ways that can be verified.
The crisis began last October when Mr. Kelly says he confronted North Korean officials with evidence they were secretly working on nuclear weapons, in violation of several international agreements.
The North Korean delegation, headed by diplomat Li Gun, said little upon arrival here in Beijing, but Pyongyang has long demanded a guarantee the United States will not attack North Korea.
China is North Korea's most important ally and a key source of critically needed food and fuel. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, said Beijing is hosting the talks in the hope of reducing tensions between Washington and North Korea.
Mr. Liu said the talks will help the two sides understand each others' positions better and help reach China's goal of a peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue.
Since October, concerns about a possibly nuclear-armed North Korea raised enormous tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. A U.S.-led consortium cut off promised oil shipments. North Korea expelled U.N. nuclear monitors, withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and reopened its Yongbyon reactor complex.
This week's talks are a compromise between North Korea - which has insisted on bilateral talks with the Washington - and United States, which says negotiations must involve North Korean neighbors Japan, South Korea and Russia.
Washington says the three days of talks are a first step toward those wider discussions, and the beginning of a long process of dialogue.