Delegates of the six nations taking part in the North Korean nuclear disarmament talks have begun arriving in the Chinese capital for Wednesday's start of a new round. It will be the first meeting since September, when Pyongyang agreed in principle to give up its nuclear weapons programs and rejoin the international nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
Kim Gye Gwan, North Korea's chief delegate to the talks, arrived in Beijing Tuesday. The Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, quoted him as saying the talks have a clear direction, but he accused the United States of taking actions that make the process more difficult.
In the joint set of principles announced on September 19, North Korea agreed to abandon all of its nuclear weapons programs in exchange for aid and security guarantees from the United States and other participants in the talks.
Since that date, however, North Korea has renewed its demands for the United States and others to provide it with a light-water nuclear reactor before it dismantles its atomic weapons programs. Pyongyang says it wants the reactor for the purposes of peaceful nuclear energy.
North Korea expert Larry Niksch, a researcher at the Congressional Research Service in Washington, calls the North's statements "a worrisome development." "It does not appear that North Korea has changed in any fundamental way the positions and the agenda that it took going into that September meeting of the six parties that produced the statement," he said.
Mr. Niksch and other analysts say delegates will likely devote time at this meeting to persuading the North to clarify its position.
This will be the fifth round of the six-party talks, which began in 2003 in an effort to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons programs. The dispute began in 2002, when Washington accused the North Koreans of conducting a secret uranium-enrichment program, in violation of earlier agreements.
In the joint statement, all sides agreed that the question of providing North Korea with a light-water reactor would be handled at an appropriate later time - in line with the position of the United States, which has opposed giving North Korea such a reactor until after the North's nuclear programs have been dismantled in a verifiable manner.
Boston College political science professor Robert Ross has been following the negotiations. He says agreeing on the sequencing of steps is the key to moving the process forward.
"The United States and North Korea are not in debate about the end result. The question is how do you get there? North Korea has insisted the light-water reactor come before total denuclearization, and the U.S. says it will come afterward," said Mr. Ross. "So again, we're coming to the sequencing problem."
Host China says it expects this round of negotiations, involving the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the United States, to last no more than three days, causing analysts to place very low expectations on the immediate outcome.