BEIJING (AFP) -North Korea has vowed to keep pushing for the right to peaceful atomic energy, putting it on a collision course with the United States as six-way talks on its nuclear weapons drive were set to resume.
Repeating the demand that broke up the talks five weeks ago, the Stalinist state said it would not accept opposition on the issue from Washington, which rejects nuclear reactors for Pyongyang.
The now-familiar impasse was underlined as the six nations — also including China, Japan, Russia and South Korea — prepared a return to the negotiating table at 0900 GMT.
The off-and-on bargaining is aimed at persuading the North, which expelled international monitors and now says it has nuclear weapons, to give up the bomb in exchange for security guarantees as well as energy and economic aid.
"(North Korea) has a right on peaceful nuclear activity. This right is neither awarded nor needs to be approved by others," the country”s chief envoy to the talks, Kim Gye-gwan, told Xinhua news agency at Pyongyang airport.
"We have this right, and the more important thing is that we should use this right. If the United States tries to set obstacles to the DPRK”s (North Korea) using this right, we can utterly not accept that."
US envoy Christopher Hill reiterated before leaving the United States that North Korea must get out of the nuclear business altogether.
He refused to be drawn Tuesday on whether progress could be made in Beijing following North Korea”s latest comments.
"If I were optimistic or pessimistic it wouldn”t really make very much difference. The fact is we have to talk to them and see where we are and then we get a better sense of where we are," he said on arrival in Beijing.
As part of any deal, North Korea wants the international community to complete construction of two light-water reactors, a five billion dollar project suspended two years ago.
The United States says the North should not have the facilities and that Pyongyang has acknowledged using its civilian program in the past as a cover for making weapons.
It argues that there is no need for the North to maintain civilian programs because South Korea has pledged to provide its neighbour with electricity. But that would make North Korea reliant on the South.
While the US has Japanese backing on this point, China, South Korea and Russia are on the record as supporting Pyongyang. The standoff sent the last round of talks in August into recess without any apparent progress.
Under a now defunct 1994 agreement, the two light-water reactors were to have been built by a US-led consortium to replace North Korea”s existing graphite-moderated reactors, which can produce weapons-grade plutonium.
But construction was suspended after the United States accused the North of developing a secret uranium-enrichment program.
Pyongyang has denied the US uranium charges but declared in February this year that it had already built nuclear bombs.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dangled the prospect of diplomatic relations in front of Pyongyang, saying "there is a lot on the table for the North Koreans if they choose to take it."
Normalization of ties could be expected if North Korea made a "strategic choice" to disband its nuclear arsenal, Rice told the New York Times.
Despite little sign that the main protagonists are ready to back down, the delegates were to expected to resume the talks with a review of a draft statement outlined by China on the principles of how to denuclearise the Korean peninsula.
In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said he expects the talks to be "constructive," after four previous rounds of inconclusive negotiations and countless hours of shuttle diplomacy aimed at resolving the standoff.
"But I can”t say what the outcome will be," he said.