SEOUL, South Korea - – North Korea's No. 2 leader said Friday that any progress at revived talks on the communist nation's nuclear program will depend on the United States, according to a news report, an indication that any breakthrough at the negotiations could be difficult.
The North agreed earlier this week to return to the arms talks after Washington said it would address financial restrictions that have limited the regime's access to outside banks. North Korea has boycotted the talks since November 2005.
Kim also accused the U.S. of seeking the resumed nuclear talks to bolster the Republicans' popularity ahead of U.S. midterm elections next week, casting doubts on Washington's sincerity in resolving "fundamental problems between North Korea and the U.S."
Kim's comments, made in a meeting with members of South Korea's minor opposition Democratic Labor Party, could not be immediately confirmed by the party headquarters in Seoul.
The North Korean official claimed Pyongyang proposed returning to the negotiations to allow the U.S. to save face and not appear to be caving in to the North's demand that the financial issue be discussed.
That account contradicts U.S. statements that diplomacy by China, the North's last major ally, had been instrumental in luring the North back to the nuclear talks.
The U.S. financial restrictions — imposed for the North's alleged illicit activities like counterfeiting and money laundering — had been a major stumbling block to the nuclear talks.
Pyongyang has said it would seek to have the restrictions lifted at the resumed talks, which also involve China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S.
South Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Chun Yung-woo, said "there is no way the U.S. can promise a solution" to the financial issue.
"I think North Korea has become aware of the reality and had decided to solve this issue at the six-party talks," he said in an interview with KBS radio.
The South Korean diplomat added that North Korea "has no more cards to play after the nuclear test" and that the communist nation had realized that time was not on their side in returning to arms talks.
No date has been set for the next round of talks, but officials have said it would be held after the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum scheduled for Nov. 18-19 in Vietnam and before the year's end.
Chun said Friday the formal talks could open in December.
Meanwhile, Washington was sending two senior State Department officials to Japan, China and South Korea next week for talks on enforcing the U.N. sanctions imposed against the North for its Oct. 9 nuclear test.
Undersecretaries of State Nicholas Burns and Robert Joseph will be in the region to discuss the sanctions, which forbid trade with North Korea in weapons and luxury goods.