SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea plans to head back to the bargaining table early next month for talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program, a news report said Saturday.
The North, believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least a half-dozen bombs, quit international disarmament-for-aid negotiations and conducted a second nuclear test last year, drawing tightened U.N. sanctions.
The North has said it will only return to the talks — which involve the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia and Japan — after the sanctions are lifted and it holds peace talks with the United States on formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War.
The U.S. and South Korea have responded that the North must first return to the negotiating table and make progress on denuclearization.
An unidentified North Korean official in Beijing said Pyongyang will return to the six-way talks in early April and "present its idea to move forward denuclearization," South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported Saturday.
The official said his country will see how the U.S. will react to the North's plan, noting that the next move will be up to Washington.
A North Korean diplomat in Beijing who was contacted by The Associated Press said he had not heard of such plans. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
A senior South Korean official involved in the nuclear talks also said he did not have information on the North's reported plan, saying he could not predict when the talks would resume. He asked not to be identified, citing the issue's sensitivity.
The nuclear talks were last held in Beijing in December 2008.
Separately, former U.N. nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei called for constructive dialogue and engagement to end North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
"The issue involves North Korea's insecurity and need for economic development, and in order for headway to be made, the world should address both these issues," ElBaradei said in a news conference in Seoul on Friday, according to Yonhap news agency.
The negotiations to get Pyongyang back to the talks are occurring amid reports of a possible succession movement in North Korea.
North Korea plans to distribute portraits of leader Kim Jong Il's youngest son, Kim Jong Un, Yonhap said, citing a Japan-based North Korean human rights group.
Lee Young-hwa, head of group RENK, said he got information that North Korea prepared Jong Un's portraits to make sure they can be hung in factories and homes along with those of father Kim Jong Il and his late grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.
The 68-year-old Kim has not publicly named any of his three sons to succeed him, but is said to favor Jong Un, believed to be in his mid-20s.