A North Korean diplomat said yesterday that progress at a new round of nuclear talks depends on the attitude of the US, a signal that the communist nation is unlikely to make any opening concessions.
Progress can be made in nuclear disarmament talks "if the US has a sincere attitude and has willingness to improve its relations" with the North, Kim Myong-gil, deputy chief of North Korea's mission to the UN in New York, said yesterday.
North Korea agreed to return to six-nation talks last month after Washington said it was willing to discuss its financial sanctions against the North.
Kim said if the US keeps the promise it made to North Korea during talks in Beijing, it would be "a good start" for fresh negotiations that would include the US, Russia, China, the two Koreas and Japan.
The North has said it is returning to talks to resolve the financial restrictions. However, Washington said only that it has agreed to consider an easing of sanctions as a side issue to nuclear negotiations.
The six-party talks are expected to start next month.
North Korea agreed at talks in September last year to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and aid, but follow-up discussions in November last year failed to make any progress on implementing the deal.
Pyongyang tested a nuclear device on Oct. 9 triggering international condemnation and UN sanctions.
Meanwhile, Kim also condemned South Korea's decision to vote in favor of a nonbinding UN General Assembly resolution criticizing the North for human rights abuses.
He said the move "would not have a positive influence" on inter-Korean relations, and denounced the vote as interference in the North's internal affairs.
Lee Jae-jeong, nominated to be South Korea's unification minister, said criticism from Seoul of the North's human rights record would not help inter-Korean relations, but vowed to keep up reconciliation efforts.
North Korea's human rights issue will be resolved by "reform and openness" in the North, he told a parliamentary confirmation hearing.
Lee, an Anglican priest who became a politician, also said he will push to set up a hotline with North Korea. He cautioned that "pressure and sanctions [on the North] should be a short-term means for dialogue."
Human Rights Watch hailed Seoul's decision as "a step in the right direction" and urged it to press Pyongyang to start discussions with UN human rights experts.
"South Korea is in a position to try to influence Pyongyang. It's heartening to see Seoul finally publicly commit itself to using that influence to protect the human rights of North Koreans," Sophie Richardson, the deputy Asia director of the New York-based human rights group, said in a statement.
South Korea's decision, announced on Thursday, is a reversal of its previous refusal to speak out publicly about abuses in the North to avoid upsetting the regime to maintain regional stability. Seoul has previously abstained from similar UN votes.
The communist regime argues it doesn't abuse human rights, but it has long been accused of holding political prisoners in camps under conditions that threaten their survival. Between 150,000 and 200,000 political prisoners are believed to be held in the North, according to the US State Department.