North Korea has called again for the resumption of multi-nation talks on its nuclear program. But the United States — a key participant in the so-called six-party negotiations — says Pyongyang first must take "meaningful action" on earlier promises to end its nuclear weapons program.
The public exchange between Pyongyang and Washington began Wednesday, when North Korea's first vice foreign minister, Kim Kye Gwan, called for a new round of talks without preconditions. He spoke in Beijing at a forum marking the 10th anniversary of the talks, which the North abandoned in 2009.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf later said "the onus" is in on North Korea to honor its earlier promises "to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs."
Since quitting the talks, Pyongyang has defied United Nations resolutions with two underground nuclear tests, and has ignored further U.N. directives with multiple missile launches. It conducted a third nuclear test earlier this year.
In his Beijing comments, Kim — the North's chief nuclear envoy — said attaching such preconditions causes "mistrust." He blamed Washington's "hostility toward North Korea" for increased tensions.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said "all parties should be devoted to restarting the six-party talks."
Those negotiations involved North Korea, South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia. They were aimed at getting the North to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for badly needed foreign aid.
Last week, the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said Pyongyang likely has restarted a closed plutonium reactor at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex. It based its conclusion on recent satellite photos that appear to show white steam emerging from a building near the reactor.
The reactor was shut down in 2007 under an aid-for-disarmament deal worked out by the six-nation process. But in April, Pyongyang warned it would restart all operations at Yongbyon to boost its nuclear force in both "quantity and quality."
Some information for this report was provided by AP.