BEIJING – North Korea defiantly declared itself a nuclear power Monday at the start of the first full international arms talks since its atomic test and threatened to increase its arsenal 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 negotiations 13 months ago.
The North also said it wants a reactor built for it and help covering its energy needs in the meantime, 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 were not met, it would increase its arsenal, according to the summary.
The U.S. offered in its opening comments to normalize relations with Pyongyang, but only after it halted its atomic program.
"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," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy, told reporters.
China, the North's last major ally, also pushed for results.
Opening the talks at a Chinese state guesthouse in Beijing, head Chinese delegate Wu Dawei urged the envoys to work 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.
"We have finished the stage of commitment for commitment and now should follow the principle of action for action," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu said, echoing phrasing from the earlier agreement.
"The position of the North Korean delegation is wide apart from the rest of us and we cannot accept it," Japanese negotiator Kenichiro Sasae told reporters.
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.
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 arsenal.
But North Korea's 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, and brought Pyongyang and Washington together just a few weeks later to agree to resume 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.
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 said.
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.