North Korea (search) renewed its demand for aid in exchange for freezing nuclear development as it began talks Monday on ending a standoff with the United States over its weapons ambitions.

Diplomats from North Korea, the United States and four other nations met to discuss the agenda for high-level talks due to start Wednesday.

Negotiators discussed North Korea's demand for "corresponding measures in response to (nuclear) freeze," South Korea's Foreign Ministry said, using the phrase employed by diplomats to describe aid to the North. The ministry said the other governments also presented their positions on disarmament but gave no details.

The other participants are host China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

The United States says it would offer aid only if North Korea proves its willingness to become nuclear-free. It says any freeze must lead to a "complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling" of the North's nuclear weapons (search) facilities.

The high-level meetings this week would be the third round of talks on the dispute, which erupted when Washington accused Pyongyang in late 2002 of pursuing nuclear weapons in violation of a 1994 agreement.

North Korea responded by expelling U.N. nuclear inspectors, withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (search) and restarting an idle nuclear reactor.

China's foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing, appealed for negotiators to show "patience and creativeness."

"The talks should be heard in an atmosphere that is pragmatic, relaxed and constructive," he said from the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao, where he was attending a meeting of Asian foreign ministers.

Earlier, China cautioned against hopes for a major breakthrough.

"The expectations for these negotiations should be rational and realistic," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said last week. "Difficulties and challenges still lie ahead."

China, the North's last major ally, has tried to draw the isolated dictatorship back to the international fold.

Beijing says just getting North Korea to join the talks is a small victory.