N. Korea calls for restart of "unconditional" nuclear talks

North Korea called Wednesday for the unconditional resumption of the six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons program, while accusing the United States of not fulfilling its commitment made therein to make joint efforts for regional peace and stability.

"To truly realize the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, we need to have the six parties all together to make concerted efforts," Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea's first vice foreign minister and its point man on nuclear issues, told a symposium in Beijing.

"We support the six-party talks, or small-scale talks within this framework. We will take part in them, in whatever format," he said. "We hope to have unconditional talks."

But Kim said setting preconditions for the resumption of the talks would harm the trust among the six parties -- North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

The United States, Japan and South Korea believe it is not yet the right time to revive the talks, insisting North Korea must first take credible steps toward giving up its nuclear ambitions before there can be substantive discussions on a resumption.

Kim said all members of the talks -- not his country alone -- must fulfill their promises, made in the six-party talks, to make joint efforts for lasting peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

He criticized the United States, in particular, saying "the root cause" of the multilateral negotiations being deadlocked since late 2008 is "the mistrust" between Pyongyang and Washington, and accusing it of stepping up its hostility toward his country.

In an attempt to build momentum for an early resumption, China, chair of the six-party talks, had asked other members to send senior officials to the academic symposium, organized by an institute affiliated with its Foreign Ministry, but none of them besides North Korea sent their top nuclear envoy.

The one-day symposium was attended mainly by scholars, though some countries, such as Japan and the United States, also had Beijing-based diplomats there as observers. The diplomats said they had no plans to meet with the North Korean side on the sidelines of the gathering.

It was held to mark the 10th anniversary of the launch of the six-party talks and the anniversary of a key agreement among the participating governments in 2005 to provide North Korea with energy assistance in exchange for its abandoning all its nuclear weapons and nuclear programs.

In that landmark agreement, the six parties also committed to make "joint efforts for lasting peace and stability in Northeast Asia," while the United States affirmed it has no intention to attack North Korea.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in his opening remarks at the symposium, said tensions in the region, which had heightened in the wake of North Korea's third nuclear test in February, have returned to "relative relaxation."

"We must seize this opportunity and continue to move the situation toward a better direction," he said, as the state of the Korean Peninsula is "still fragile and uncertain."

Wang said that the framework of the six parties is an important security mechanism for maintaining stability in Northeast Asia, and that the countries involved should "support such measures as institutionalizing heads of delegations' meetings and endorsing the progress of the meetings by their leaders."

Even though North Korea has in recent months expressed its willingness to restart the talks, the United States, Japan and South Korea remain skeptical about its intentions, given its history of repeated broken promises and provocations.

"We will start sailing the boat of the six-party talks," Kim said at the end of his speech.

North Korea, he said, "has sat in a good position in this boat. We hope that other parties involved will get seated in their own seats in this boat."

But while vowing "serious efforts" to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, Kim, who headed a delegation that included Ri Yong Ho, North Korea's chief negotiator at the six-way talks, also said his country will "never beg for talks."

The symposium took place after recent satellite imagery of activity at North Korea's main Yongbyon nuclear complex has raised concern that it may have reactivated its 5-megawatt reactor, which is capable of producing plutonium.