BEIJING, (AP) -North Korea defiantly declared itself a nuclear power Monday at the start of the first full international arms talks since its nuclear test and threatened to increase its nuclear deterrent if its demands were not met.
Reiterating those demands in its opening speech, the North said the United Nations must lift the sanctions imposed on the communist nation for its Oct. 9 nuclear test. It also said the United States must remove the financial restrictions that led the North to break off the six-nation nuclear negotiations 13 months ago.
The North also said it wants a nuclear reactor constructed for it and help covering its energy needs until the reactor is completed, according to a summary of the speech released by one of the delegations involved. Five nations are trying to persuade the North to abandon nuclear weapons — the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.
The North said that now that it is a nuclear power, it should be treated on equal footing with the U.S. It warned that if its demands aren’t met, it would increase its nuclear deterrent, according to the summary.
The U.S. offered in its opening comments to normalize relations with Pyongyang, but only after it halted its nuclear program.
A South Korean official who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the talks said the North was entering the negotiations with a maximum of conditions for success.
Opening the talks at a Chinese state guesthouse in Beijing, head Chinese delegate Wu Dawei urged the envoys to strive for the implementation of a September 2005 agreement in which the North pledged to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and aid.
“This session has significant meaning in building on past progress and paving the way for the future,” he said. “We hope that with the concerted efforts of all parties, we will be able to produce positive results.”
North Korea agreed to return to the six-nation negotiations just weeks after its nuclear test, saying it wanted to discuss U.S. financial restrictions against a Macau bank where the regime held accounts.
That issue will be addressed in separate U.S.-North Korean meetings expected to start Tuesday.
The arms talks have been plagued by delays and discord since they began in August 2003.
The U.S. has sought to line up support against Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions by enlisting its neighbors in the discussions.
The North exploited divisions among the U.S. and its partners in an effort to change the subject and buy time to develop its atomic arsenal.
But North Korea’s nuclear test of a low-yield nuclear device seemed to stiffen the will of other countries — particularly China — to persuade it to disarm.
Beijing joined a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution sanctioning North Korea for its nuclear test, and brought Pyongyang and Washington together just a few weeks later to agree to resume nuclear discussions.
North Korea had boycotted the talks in response to the financial restrictions imposed by the United States. Washington had accused North Korea of using the Macau bank in scheme to launder money and print counterfeit U.S. currency.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the U.S. nuclear envoy, said the United States supports the U.N. sanctions until the North disarms and said the goal now was to make the 2005 agreement a reality.
“The supply of our patience may have exceeded the international demand for that patience, and we should be a little less patient and pick up the pace and work faster,” Hill told reporters Monday.
China, the North’s last major ally, also pushed for results.
“We have finished the stage of commitment for commitment and now should follow the principle of action for action,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu told reporters, echoing phrasing from the earlier agreement.
“We hope that with the concerted efforts of all parties, we will be able to produce positive results at this session,” Wu, the Chinese envoy, said at the talks’ start.
South Korean nuclear negotiator Chun Yung-woo suggested getting North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program was a two-way process.
“We urged North Korea to take bold and substantial initial steps to dismantle its nuclear program and stressed that the other five countries’ corresponding measures should also be bold and substantial,” Chun told reporters.
The latest North Korean nuclear crisis began in late 2002, when U.S. officials said the North admitted running a secret nuclear program. The program violated a 1994 deal with the U.S., in which North Korea agreed to halt its atomic development.
After its admission, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, expelled international inspectors and restarted its main nuclear reactor in order to make plutonium for bombs.