SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea said Tuesday it cannot return to international nuclear disarmament talks unless the United States lifts sanctions imposed for its alleged currency counterfeiting and other illegal activities.
"While under U.S. sanctions, it's impossible to sit face-to-face and discuss abandoning our nuclear deterrent," said the Rodong Sinmun, the North's ruling Workers Party newspaper, in a Korean-language commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
"The U.S. sanctions are obviously the fundamental element that disrupts the six-party talks," the newspaper said.
Also Tuesday, a pro-North Korea newspaper based in Japan said the North's leader is "determined to go on an all-out offensive" and will take a "resolute measure" regarding the nuclear issue, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
"There is a possibility of the situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula making a great shift this year," the Choson Sinbo said in a Pyongyang-datelined story.
The paper did not elaborate.
Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University, said the report suggests steps aimed at boosting the country's negotiating power, such as test-firing a missile or increasing its nuclear arsenal. But Koh said a nuclear test was unlikely "as it would provoke China and other neighboring countries too much."
In September, Washington placed sanctions on a Macau-based bank, alleging it helped the North distribute counterfeit currency and engage in other illicit activities.
The next month, the U.S. sanctioned eight North Korean companies it claimed were fronts for proliferating weapons of mass destruction.
North Korea reacted swiftly and angrily, calling the U.S. allegations a "sheer lie" and threatening to boycott the nuclear talks with the Washington, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia unless the sanctions were lifted.
Washington says it has convincing evidence of the North's wrongdoing, but stressed that the issue is a law enforcement matter unrelated to the nuclear talks.
North Korea claims the U.S. is seeking to overthrow its regime behind a smoke screen of dialogue. It says the sanctions and emphasis by the U.S. on the North's human rights abuses are signs of Washington's "hostility."
In September, the North pledged at the nuclear talks in Beijing to give up its atomic programs in return for aid and security assurances. But no progress was made on implementing the agreement after North Korea placed new conditions — which the U.S. said were unacceptable — on its disarmament.
The talks recessed in November. Negotiators agreed to meet again, but did not set a date.
The dispute flared in October 2002, following U.S. allegations that the North was running a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of international agreements.