North Korea seeks fresh start to nuclear disarmament talks

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan talks to reporters as he leaves his New York City hotel. Kim met with U.S. Ambassador Stephen Bosworth to discuss North Korea's nuclear program on July 28, 2011.

North Korea said Monday it wants six-party talks on its nuclear weapons program to resume without preconditions, in the secretive regime's first public comments following rare bilateral meetings with US officials last week.

Pyongyang said it "remains unchanged in its stand to resume the six-party talks without preconditions at an early date" and implement a 2005 denuclearization deal, according to AFP news agency.

A foreign ministry spokesman told the North's official news agency that there would be further dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington to follow up on last week's meetings in New York.

The communist regime has repeatedly called for the resumption of the six-party negotiations, which include North Korea and the United States as well as South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.

The talks have been in limbo since the North walked out in April 2009, weeks ahead of its second atomic weapons test and fours years after it agreed in principle to abandon its nuclear weapons drive.

Doubts about its sincerity were fueled last year when it allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship and shelled a South Korean island, killing dozens of sailors and civilians.

But there was a breakthrough of sorts late last month when the nuclear negotiators of North and South Korea met on the sidelines of an Asian security forum in Indonesia, which was also attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

That meeting resulted in an invitation from Clinton to the North's envoy to visit New York for follow-up talks with U.S. officials. Those talks on Thursday and Friday between North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-Gwan and U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth were the first high-level contacts since Bosworth visited Pyongyang in December 2009.

"Both sides recognized that the improvement of the bilateral relations and the peaceful negotiated settlement of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula conform with the interests of the two sides and agreed to further dialogue," the North's foreign ministry spokesman said.

Ahead of the New York talks Clinton emphasized that they were only "exploratory" and there would be no new incentives for the North to meet its earlier disarmament commitments.

South Korea's chief envoy to the six-party process, Wi Sung-Lac, responded warily to the North's public comments.

"We cannot go to six-party talks when (the North's) nuclear programs are up and running," he said, indicating that the forum would not reopen any time soon.

A key new sticking point in the six-party process is expected to be the North's uranium enrichment program, revealed to the world in November. It gives the regime a second potential fuel source for atomic bombs in addition to its plutonium-based weapons.