North Korea restated yesterday its demand for a non-aggression treaty with the US, resurrecting the communist state's old terms for resolving the nuclear crisis amid growing expectations of multilateral talks.
"If the United States dropped its hostile policy toward the DPRK [North Korea] and legally committed itself to non-aggression, the latter would be ready to dispel the US concern," said the state-run KCNA news agency.
The KCNA commentary came shortly after a South Korean newspaper reported that nuclear crisis talks between North Korea, the US and China are likely to be held on Sept. 6 in the Chinese capital, Beijing.
The mainstream Korea Times quoted anonymous sources as saying an announcement would be made this week. A South Korean government official said Seoul was unaware of any schedule for a second round of nuclear talks following a meeting of US, North Korean and Chinese officials in April in Beijing.
But Seoul has been encouraged after a flurry of diplomatic efforts by China, which sent a senior envoy to Moscow, Pyongyang and Washington this month to try to build momentum for talks to defuse Northeast Asia's biggest security threat.
China has floated new talks formats as a way of bridging the gap between North Korea's demand for bilateral talks with the US and Washington's insistence that only a multilateral approach can make any deal with North Korea stick.
The KCNA commentary resurrected the non-aggression pact demand that North Korea first made in October, days after the nuclear row erupted when US officials said the North had acknowledged it had a covert atomic program.
KCNA did not mention three-way talks or other formats for negotiations. The Korea Times said an expanded meeting involving South Korea and Japan would follow September's three-way talks.
"The nuclear issue between the DPRK and the US is a very acute matter of `who beats whom,'" it said. "Therefore, there can be no unilateral concession or compromise forced by one side."
The US rejects North Korea's portrayal of the nuclear dispute as a bilateral matter, saying Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions threaten its neighbors South Korea and Japan and violate key international arms control agreements.
Despite an apparent reversion to terms rejected by Washington, officials with experience of negotiating with North Korea say Pyongyang often stiffens demands just before entering talks to make its subsequent proposals seem like concessions.