SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea (search) said Wednesday it expected little progress at revived nuclear disarmament talks next week, criticizing moves in Japan and the United States to raise the issues of Pyongyang's abductions of Japanese citizens and alleged human rights abuses.
"Such disturbing actions as slandering ... a dialogue partner cannot help the talks progress into a positive direction and will only bring conflict and a breakdown in the end," the North's official Korean Central News Agency (search) said in a commentary.
The U.S. and Japanese actions "make it hard for us and other related countries to be optimistic about substantial progress" at the talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear ambitions, KCNA said.
The comment comes a day after a Washington conference funded by the U.S. Congress (search) focused on human rights abuses in the communist North and after Japanese officials said they wanted to discuss the abductions on the sidelines of the talks.
The Bush administration has maintained a low profile toward the Washington conference, not wanting to give Pyongyang any excuse to cancel its participation in the nuclear talks set to resume Tuesday in Beijing after a 13-month hiatus.
South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young said negotiating partners — China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas — should focus on resolving the international standoff over the North's nuclear program and refrain from raising other issues at the table.
The goal of the negotiations is "denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and dismantling the North's nuclear weapons program," Chung said in an interview in Wednesday's Hankyoreh newspaper. "Issues of North Korea's human rights and Japanese abductions ... should not be on the agenda."
The U.S. ambassador to Japan also said Wednesday that North Korea must agree to give up its nuclear weapons programs before negotiators can address other disputes.
"If that issue is not resolved, then it seems that nothing else is achievable," Thomas Schieffer told reporters in Tokyo. "Nuclear weapons is not the end of the process, but it certainly is the beginning."
The North's KCNA said in a separate commentary Wednesday that Pyongyang would refuse to deal with Tokyo at the nuclear talks.
"Japan has so far stood in the way" of the disarmament negotiations, it said. "Japan has busied itself to divert the orientation and atmosphere for the six-party talks into those serving its mean interests."
North Korea has admitted kidnapping 13 Japanese in the 1970s and '80s, and allowed five of them to return to Japan, saying the other eight have died. Japan, however, is demanding proof of the deaths and information on other cases of missing Japanese.
The North Korean nuclear crisis broke out in late 2002, when U.S. officials accused the North of running a secret uranium enrichment program. In February, the North claimed it had nuclear weapons and has since taken steps to harvest more weapons-grade plutonium.
South Korea has pressed for the revived nuclear talks' format to be expanded, allowing an open-ended meeting that could go on for weeks, with breaks, until a resolution is reached. South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that all five countries except North Korea had reached a broad consensus on a possible change to the format, to be discussed further before the talks convene.